contact

Communities in Contact represents the outcome of the Fourth International
Leiden in the Caribbean symposium entitled From Prehistory to Ethnography in
the circum-Caribbean. The contributions included in this volume cover a wide
range of topics from a variety of disciplines – archaeology, bioarchaeology,
ethnohistory, and ethnography – revolving around the themes of mobility
and exchange, culture contact, and settlement and community. The
application of innovative approaches and the multi-dimensional character
of these essays have provided exiting new perspectives on the indigenous
communities of the circum-Caribbean and Amazonian regions throughout
prehistory until the present.

in

contact

Communities

in

edited by

Corinne L. Hofman &
Anne van Duijvenbode

Communities

Communities
in

contact

Essays in archaeology, ethnohistory & ethnography of
the Amerindian circum-Caribbean

edited by

Corinne L. Hofman &
Anne van Duijvenbode
Sidestone Press
Bestelnummer: SSP60550001

693135177

ISBN: 978-90-8890-063-1

9 789088 900631

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ISBN 978-90-8890-063-1

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Communities
in

contact

Sidestone Press

Communities
in

contact

Essays in archaeology, ethnohistory & ethnography of
the Amerindian circum-Caribbean

edited by

Corinne L. Hofman &
Anne van Duijvenbode

ISBN 978-90-8890-063-1
© 2011 Authors
Published by Sidestone Press, Leiden
www.sidestone.com
Sidestone registration number: SSP60550001
Lay-out: P.C. van Woerdekom, Sidestone Press
Cover design: K. Wentink, Sidestone Press
Front Cover Credits
Foreground image: Coral artefact with human face in relief found at the site of Anse à la Gourde, Guadeloupe,
AD 1000-1400 (Photo by J. Pauptit).
Background image: Detail of feature layer with postholes cut into the bedrock at the site of El Cabo, Dominican
Republic, AD 1000-1500 (Photo by A.V.M. Samson).
Back cover, left to right: Artistic, life-sized interpretation of the archaeological site El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba ,
AD 1200-1600 (Photo by A. van Duijvenbode). / Wooden stool or duho recovered from the island of Dominica,
dated between AD 1315-1427. Catalogue number ECB40669, Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic
Gardens, Kew, UK (Photo by J. Ostapkowicz). / Clay Figurine found at the Lavoutte site, St. Lucia, AD 12001500 (photo by M.L.P. Hoogland).
Front cover, left to right: Map of Guadeloupe published by Champlain in 1859 (Photo by A.J. Bright). / The TrioOkomoyana village of Amotopo in the midwest of Suriname in 2007 (Photo by J.L.J.A. Mans). / Frontal view
of the upper incisors and canines of individual 72B from the site of El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba, AD 1200-1600,
showing intentional dental modification (Photo by H.L. Mickleburgh).

Contents
Preface
Corinne L. Hofman and Anne van Duijvenbode
Foreword
José R. Oliver

9
11

Mobility and Exchange
Unravelling the multi-scale networks of mobility and exchange in the pre-
colonial circum-Caribbean
Corinne L. Hofman and Menno L.P. Hoogland

15

The social in the circum-Caribbean
Toward a transcontextual order
Alexander Geurds

45

Bringing interaction into higher spheres
Social distance in the Late Ceramic Age Greater Antilles as seen through
ethnohistorical accounts and the distribution of social valuables
Angus A.A. Mol

61

Early phytocultural processes in the pre-Colonial Antilles
A pan-Caribbean survey for an ongoing starch grain research
Jaime R. Pagán-Jiménez

87

The circulation of jadeitite across the Caribbeanscape
Reniel Rodríguez Ramos

117

‘This relic of antiquity’
Fifth to fifteenth century wood carvings from the southern Lesser Antilles
Joanna Ostapkowicz, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Alex C. Wiedenhoeft, Fiona Brock,
Tom Higham, and Samuel M. Wilson

137

Much to choose from
The use and distribution of siliceous stone in the Lesser Antilles
Sebastiaan Knippenberg

171

Diverse origins, similar diets
An integrated isotopic perspective from Anse à la Gourde, Guadeloupe
Jason E. Laffoon and Bart R. de Vos

187

Trio movements and the Amotopoan flux
Jimmy L.J.A. Mans

205

Culture Contact
El Chorro de Maíta
A diverse approach to a context of diversity
Roberto Valcárcel Rojas, Darlene A. Weston, Hayley L. Mickleburgh, Jason E. Laffoon
and Anne van Duijvenbode

225

Conflicting cosmologies
The exchange of brilliant objects between the Taíno of Hispaniola and the Spanish
Floris W.M. Keehnen

253

In sickness and in health 
Possibilities for studying the social and cultural implications of treponemal
disease in the Caribbean area
Rachel Schats

269

Through the eyes of the chronicler
Adriana I. Churampi Ramírez

281

From Cayo to Kalinago
Aspects of Island Carib archaeology
Arie Boomert

291

“Removed from off the face of the island”
Late pre-Colonial and early Colonial Amerindian society in the Lesser Antilles
Alistair J. Bright

307

An ethnohistorical approach of the Carib through written sources
The example of the Relation by Jacques Bouton
Bernard Grunberg

327

De insulis Karaybicis relationes manuscriptæ
Adrien Le Breton, the last Jesuit missionary in the Carib island of St. Vincent
Benoît Roux

343

John Nicholl
An Houre Glasse of Indian Newes (1607)
Eugénie de Zutter

361

Pierre Pelleprat
A missionary between the Lesser Antilles and the Continent
Emilie Chatrie

367

The first missionaries and the evangelization of black slaves in the Lesser 
Antilles in the early years of French colonization (1625-1655)
Eric Roulet

379

Settlement and Community
Living islands of the Caribbean
A view of relative sea level change from the water’s edge
Jago Cooper and Richard Boothroyd
Palaeoecology and human occupation during the Mid-Holocene in Puerto 
Rico: the case of Angostura
Isabel C. Rivera-Collazo

393

407

The most beautiful house in the world
The archaeology of aesthetics in eastern Hispaniola
Alice V.M. Samson

421

Plus d’une Langue (no more language / more than a language)
Archaeology, history and ethnography in the Guiana highlands
Renzo S. Duin

439

Ethnoarchaeology of the Amazonian house
Pre-Columbian and Jivaro continuity in Ecuador
Stéphen Rostain

455

Contextualization of Amazonia artefacts
Indigenous cosmologies and the Nature/Culture divide
Sonia Duin

475

Epilogue
Scale, hybridity, and perspective in the Caribbean and beyond 
Michael J. Heckenberger

491

List of Contributors

505

Preface

Communities in contact is the outcome of the fourth edition of Leiden in the Caribbean, a
series of symposia organized by the Caribbean Research Group of Leiden University with
the aim of bringing together researchers from all over the world to discuss methodological
and theoretical advances in Caribbean research. The first edition was organized in Leiden
and Paris in 2002 in collaboration with André Delpuech, then associate of the French
Ministry of Culture in Paris. This symposium culminated in the edited volume entitled
Late Ceramic Age Societies in the Eastern Caribbean published by the British Archaeological
Reports in 2004. The second and third editions both took place in Leiden in 2006 and
2007 and focused on current archaeological research in the Lesser and Greater Antilles.
Special guests to these symposia were William F. Keegan, John Crock, David Watters,
Glenis Maria Tavarez, André Delpuech and Jago Cooper.
Leiden in the Caribbean IV has taken a somewhat broader regional perspective
(Caribbean islands, Amazonia, Central America) and brought together archaeological,
ethnohistorical, and ethnographic studies. The symposium hosted many internationally
renowned scholars and students and served as a platform to discuss the diverse and complex topics with which Caribbean archaeologists are confronted today. These topics are
elaborated upon and reflected in the three sections constituting this volume: mobility and
exchange, culture contact and settlement and community. The symposium and the volume
have been financed by the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research (NWO) in the
context of the VICI project “Communicating communities” (NWO-no.-277-62-001).
We are grateful to all international participants of the Leiden in the Caribbean IV symposium for their stay in Leiden during which they shared their expertise, ideas and knowledge with us. These are: Emilie Chatrie, Jago Cooper, André Delpuech, Eugenie De Zutter,
Sonia Duin, Bernard Grunberg, Michael Heckenberger, José Oliver, Joanna Ostapkowicz,
Jaime Pagán Jiménez, Reniel Rodríguez Ramos, Stéphen Rostain, Eric Roulet, Benoît Roux,
and Roberto Valcárcel Rojas. Two presenters could unfortunately not participate in the volume, i.e. Eithne Carlin who presented on nested identities in the Guianas and José Oliver
who discussed a framework for his upcoming research in the northwestern Dominican
Republic. We are, however, delighted that José Oliver has accepted our proposition to write
a foreword to the volume. We were also particularly honored with Michael Heckenberger’s
presence at the symposium and would like to thank him for ‘wrapping up’ the sessions and
critically accessing each of the presentations and the many new ideas that were put forward.
His appreciations and critiques are provided in the epilogue to this volume.
The papers presented here have been submitted for review and editorial comments by
the Caribbean Research Group (UL). In this respect we would like to thank in particular
Arie Boomert, Alex Geurds, Jason Laffoon, Hayley Mickleburgh, Angus Mol and Alice
Samson for their excellent job. We would like to acknowledge Stéphen Rostain, Micheline

Preface 

Blancaneaux and Anna Blancaneaux-Flores for their translations of the abstracts to French
and Alex Geurds and Isabel Rivera Collazo for revising the Spanish abstracts. Finally, we
thank the many students who helped to organize the symposium in March 2010. Special
thanks in this respect go out to Rachel Schats, Floris Keehnen, Samantha de Ruiter,
Marlieke Ernst and Hedwig van den Berg.
The editors
Corinne L. Hofman and Anne van Duijvenbode

10

communities in contact

Foreword

A key objective of the Leiden in the Caribbean series of symposia is to share and exchange
information of current research interests on wide-ranging topics among scholars working in the circum-Caribbean. It is the informal and lively face-to-face exchanges that take
place in between and around the formal presentations that are a valuable contribution to
Caribbean archaeology. This symposia series affords not only an opportunity for Europeanbased scholars and research students to interact but, equally stimulating, selected guest
scholars based in the New World add significantly in what otherwise would be a local exchange. It is in such an informal and international ambiance that ideas are debated; strategies and plans for new angles or insights to on-going projects are gestated or strengthened.
The lively question/discussion period that follows each of the symposia sessions gives it a
seminar/workshop ambiance.
The twenty-seven different contributions contained within the present volume are an
outcome of the Leiden in the Caribbean IV symposium, entitled ‘From prehistory to ethnography in the circum-Caribbean and Amazonia’ and are representative of the current
scholarly activity in the Caribbean and its neighbouring mainland regions.
For the better part of the twentieth century the notion of ‘mobility’ was largely debated
in terms of a dichotomy between diffusion and migration and based entirely on comparative ceramic analyses to the point where ceramic styles ‘migrated’ from region to region.
Peoples were defined largely as a passive vessel or container, a vehicle for the movement
or diffusion of ceramic potsherds and styles. From the 1990s the social, political and
economic dimensions and the dynamics of the mobility of both human beings and material culture (not just potsherds) through time and space, however, have become central
to a much more enriched understanding of the pre- and post-Columbian history of the
Caribbean. Moreover trade and exchange, instead of merely the ‘diffusion’ of things from
one place to another, are now firmly rooted in Maussian theories of reciprocity, of what
must be kept or be given, on the circulation of not only prestige valuables but also more
mundane commodities, and on the effects of this circulation over different scales of time
and of space. And, of course, all such exchanges are transactions that engage human beings
in social relations.
The archaeological evidence, once focused almost exclusively on pottery, is now of the
most diverse nature: stable isotopic analyses of human remains to ascertain whether individuals are local or exotic and to document diet preferences; sourcing the petrological and
mineralogical signatures of ceramic and lithic materials to infer patterns of distribution;
starch residues to identify and trace the origin and distribution of plant resources. Interest
is not only on teasing out the nature of the mobility and exchange, but on the consequences, such as contacts between traders and exchange parties as a process of socio-cultural and bio-cultural transformations. Syncretism, transculturation, assimilation (mimicry, masking) are conceptual tools wielded to contextualize fundamental questions about
continuity and change, the rejection or resistance to the new and exotic at one end and/or
its negotiated adoption, transformation and incorporation. These are all topics addressed
in this volume. In this first decade of the twenty-first century, and clearly reflected in this

Foreword

11

volume, a key consequence of all of this re-invigorated approach to mobility and exchange
and the resulting cultural contact has resulted in the reopening of the West Indian ‘insularized theatre’ to a truly pan-Caribbean scope, and not just looking at the north-eastern
Venezuela and Guiana as the only theatre of interaction. This opening-up of the radius of
action and reaction of the Amerindian Caribbean, to some extent restoring Julian Steward’s
original Circum-Caribbean theatre, is one of the most exciting aspects of the symposium
and captured in various papers in this volume.
Indeed, the contributors to the Culture Contact section in this volume further expand
the pan-Caribbean theatre to consider the European and African actors and their material
culture, not just on what their impact was upon the indigenous societies but as well how
the latter were perceived and portrayed to diverse European audiences. Issues of personhood, embodiment, ethnicity, individual as well as cultural and even multicultural identities of all the actors pre-colonial, colonial and even post-colonial are themes explored by
various papers in this book. And by ‘actors’ I do not mean only human beings, but also the
sentient objects (cemís in the shape of duhos, iconic figures) that form part of the socialising network of the Amerindians, as is explored by some of the contributors to this volume.
The analyses of ethnohistoric text and narratives by French, English and Spanish colonial
authors, are concerned with a number of the issues of culture contact (and impact) just
mentioned. In this volume the re-examination of the well-known texts, such as Bishop Las
Casas, are given a fresh outlook by focusing not so much on what the text comments about
the Caribbean Amerindians, but on why the writer portrayed and interpreted them in this
or that way. The texts and documentation gathered by the team at the University of Reims
and presented in this volume, further enriches our understanding of the complexities of
cultural contact in the Caribbean and in the European metropolis.
Mobility, trade, exchange, the circulation of materials, peoples, and ideas and the transformations that can result from cultural contacts, of course, do take place in the context
of communities and their settlements, the third topic of research interest covered in this
volume. And settlements, of course, are embedded in a natural as well as culturally constructed landscape, not just a sociological one. The papers on this topic do reflect these
concerns in terms of expressions of community, of their engagement with each other in
their settlements and with their history-laden land-and-seascapes.
I am confident that you, the reader, will find within this pages food for thought, a range
of refreshing (multi-dimensional and multi-scalar) perspectives that will resonate with your
own research interests.
José R. Oliver
University College London

12

communities in contact

Mobility
and

Exchange

Unravelling

the multi - scale networks of

mobility and exchange in the pre - colonial
circum -Caribbean

Corinne L. Hofman and Menno L.P. Hoogland

This paper broaches the topic of mobility and exchange from a pan-Caribbean perspective. Using a multi-disciplinary and multi-scalar approach the research presented here attempts to map the movement of people throughout the Caribbean archipelago. It further
aims to assess the establishment of local, regional and pan-regional networks of interaction for human mobility and the trade and exchange of goods and ideas at multiple scales
in one of the world’s prime insular domains. It also highlights the variability and changes
that can be observed in the web of social relationships among islanders through time and
between communities of varying socio-political complexity. This contribution outlines the
VICI project: Communicating Communities, financed by the Netherlands Organisation
for Scientific Research (NWO).
Este artículo aborda el tema de la movilidad y del intercambio desde una perspectiva panCaribeña. Utilizando un enfoque multidisciplinario y de múltiples escalas, esta investigación intenta de reconstruir el movimiento de poblaciones en el archipiélago. Además,
tiene como objetivo evaluar el desarrollo de redes locales, regionales y pan-regionales de
interacción para movilidad humana, el comercio y el intercambio de materiales e ideas a
múltiples escalas en una de los principales áreas insulares a nivel mundial. También subraya
la variabilidad y los cambios que se pueden observar en la red de relaciones sociales entre
los isleños a través del tiempo y entre comunidades de diferente complejidad socio-política.
Esta contribución describe el proyecto VICI: Communicating Communities, financiado
por la Fundación Neerlandesa de Investigación Científica (NWO).
Cet article aborde le sujet de la mobilité et de l’échange selon la perspective pan-caraïbe. En
utilisant une approche pluridisciplinaire et à différentes échelles, la recherche présentée ici
tente de cartographier les mouvements de population à travers l’archipel de la Caraïbe. Son
objectif suivant vise à évaluer l’établissement de réseaux d’interaction locaux, régionaux
et pan-régionaux, pour la mobilité humaine ainsi que le commerce et l’échange de biens
et d’idées à différentes échelles, dans l’un des principaux domaines insulaires du monde.
Il met également l’accent sur la variabilité et les changements qui peuvent être observés
dans le tissu de relations sociales des insulaires à travers le temps et entre les communautés de complexités socio-politiques différentes. Cette contribution expose enfin le projet
VICI : Communautés Communiquantes, financé par la Fondation Néerlandaise pour la
Recherche Scientifique (NWO).

Hofman & Hoogland

15

Migration and interaction in the Caribbean: a retrospective
As early as the 1950’s, Benjamin Irving Rouse, one of the founding fathers of Caribbean
archaeology, basing himself on a framework of cultural taxonomy, envisioned that the
Caribbean islands were settled in a stepping-stone mode from north-eastern South America
around 6000 BP (see Curet 2005 for an extensive review of this issue). He suggested that
cultural diffusion was the outcome of population movement or migration from the mainland into the islands, drawing on archaeological, linguistic and biological lines of evidence.
Excepting the colonization by early Lithic and Archaic Age peoples from different areas
in South and Central America (Belize), Rouse claimed that the islanders originated in the
South American coastal zone. Besides population movement and local development Rouse
also recognized the idea of interaction to explain changes in the archaeological record
(Rouse 1951, 1992). In this sense, he defined so-called passage areas in which interaction
between neighbouring islands existed within what he called the ‘Caribbean Culture Area’
(Rouse 1986, 1992). However, operating at the macro-scale of cultures or supra-cultures
(known as ‘series’ and ‘subseries’) hampered the observation at the micro-scale of local
groups or communities identifiable by ‘styles’ or ‘complexes’ (see also Curet 2005; Curet
and Torres 2010). Michael Heckenberger (2005) suggested that this massive population
movement was the outcome of a diaspora of Arawakan-speaking people out of the Amazon
via the floodplain areas of the Negro and Orinoco rivers, and from the Amazon river into
the Caribbean and Guiana. His ideas corresponded in general to the distribution patterns
drawn by Donald Lathrap (1970). Several hypotheses have been put forward over the past
decades as an explanation for migration from the mainland into the islands. Warfare and
population pressure on the mainland were suggested as possible push factors (Roe 1989),
the economic attractiveness of the new island territories was advanced as a pull factor
(Keegan 1985) and the flexible adaptation to available resources was proposed as a more
opportunistic model (Siegel 1991). The upholding of a lifeline with coastal South America
to shape and maintain demographic and social fitness among the colonizing islanders,
comparable to the Lapita situation in Oceania, has been used to explain the quick dispersion of Saladoid ceramics in the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico as well as the manifestation of island imagery and mainland material items in the archaeological record of the early
Ceramic Age insular Caribbean (Hofman et al. 2011; Keegan 2004; Kirch 1988, 2000;
Watters 1982).
Migration in the Caribbean has thus long been perceived as a rather uni-linear or unidirectional event. Breaking away from the unidirectional hypothesis a multi-linear, reticulate and more chaotic model for island settlement has been proposed by Keegan (2004) by
which direct crossing from the South American mainland to Puerto Rico and the northern
Lesser Antilles are envisioned, downplaying the traditional stepping stone-model via the
Lesser Antilles (e.g. Curet 2005; Hofman et al. 2010, 2011; Fitzpatrick and Callaghan
2009; Keegan 2004, 2009).
However, the mental template of a sole north-eastern South American origin has blinded the potential of macro-regional connections with other neighbouring continental areas
like coastal Central America, Colombia and Western Venezuela advocated by Julian H.
Steward (1948) and followed by others (see Meggers 1979; Sanoja and Vargas Arenas 1999;
Veloz Maggiolo 1980 and see Angula Valdés 1988; Hoopes and Fonseca 2003 for the concept of Isthmo-Colombian area). Steward defended the concept of a ‘Circum-Caribbean
culture area’, which united the Caribbean and Intermediate Culture Areas which directly

16

communities in contact

derived one from the other, and believed in a more heterogeneous dispersal of people into
the Caribbean (see also Geurds, this volume).
The idea of a circum-Caribbean area (Figure 1) to study the mainland-island connections and the web of interlocking social networks that may have been at play across
the Caribbean Sea recently had a revival (Hofman and Bright 2010, Hofman and Carlin
2010). For Rodríguez Ramos (2010) this geohistorical area, which he had called the Greater
Caribbean area would emphasize the idea of potentially stronger relationships having existed between the Antilles and the Ishtmo-Columbian area rather than with north-eastern
South America. We would rather leave this open for discussion and it is our contention
here, to draw a much more dynamic picture of the communities that entered the archipelago more than 6000 years ago through a continuous process involving exploratory expeditions, exchange of goods, ideas and information, and small-scale movements from the
various areas in continental America culminating in the upholding of social relationships
between Archaic and Ceramic Age (or pre-Arawak and Arawak, see Keegan and Rodríguez
Ramos 2004) communities and later between Ceramic Age communities throughout the
region (Hofman et al. 2006). Human mobility and the exchange of goods and ideas were at
the basis of the interaction networks which functioned at local, regional and pan-regional
scales (e.g. Berman and Gnivecki 1995; Curet 2005; Curet and Hauser 2011; Hofman and
Bright 2010; Hofman et al. 2007; Keegan and Diamond 1987; Watters and Rouse 1989).

A pan-Caribbean web of social relationships
A dynamic pan-Caribbean web of social relationships and interlocking networks would
likely have resulted from the continuous coming and going of individuals and groups of
people with a range of motives (environmental, socio-political, economic, ideological) between various parts of the continent and the islands (see also Hofman 2006; Hofman and
Bright 2010; Hofman and Carlin 2010; Rodríguez Ramos 2010). This would have initiated processes which are recognized as colonizing migrations, resource and seasonal mobility, cross-community mobility, residential mobility, inter-community mobility (feasting,
raiding and exchange and also including post-mortem mobility) to name a few (see e.g.
Bellwood 2004; Curet 2005; Hofman et al. 2006; Keegan 2006; Kelly 1995; Manning
2005; Moch 2003; Moore 2001; Sellet et al. 2006). Perishable and non-perishable goods,
ideas and information as well as cultural and social practices would have been transported
over long distances and webs of social relationships were established at various scales amalgamating over time to become the landscape of plurality encountered by the Europeans in
the late fifteenth century (see also Rodríguez Ramos 2010). Processes of fission and fusion
and changing socio-political organization would have echoed fluid social ties reflecting
communities most likely based on kinship, marriage or community membership. Through
these networks social, political and economic relationships were created, maintained and
abolished and these were continuously subject to shifting and expanding group territories. Apart from ensuring demographic fitness, the social networks would have provided
access to a range of basic needs and have promoted the formation and maintenance of socio-political alliances through marriage and ritual services, but on the contrary could also
have entailed anti-social strategies such as negative reciprocity (see Mol, this volume). The
exchange of utilitarian wares and socially valued goods would have been accompanied in

Hofman & Hoogland

17

Atlantic Ocean
Cuba
Mexico

G

re
at
er
Jamaica

Belize

A n t
i l l e s

Le

ss

er

Honduras

HISPANIOLA

Salvado

Caribbean Sea

Nigaragu

Ist

Costa Rica
0

Antilles

Guatemala

hm

Trinidad

o-colombian area

Panama

600 km

Venezuela
Colombia

oco

Orin

Figure 1 The Caribbean (is)landscape.

these interaction spheres by the sharing of myths, tales, songs, dances, ritual knowledge
and experience embedded in native cosmovision (see also Arvelo-Jiménez and Biord 1994;
Boomert 2000; Morey 1976; Mansutti Rodríguez 1986).

A multi-disciplinary approach towards the multi-scale networks of mobility
and exchange
In order to comprehend the mechanisms at play in building and maintaining the multiple
networks in which human mobility and the exchange of goods and ideas took place at various scales in the archaeological record of the Caribbean, a multi-disciplinary approach has
been designed within the VICI project combining archaeology, archaeometry, bioarchaeology, ethnohistory and ethnography (Hofman 2006). Recently, the integrated application of
pioneering archaeometric methods and techniques has provided promising results in field
of Caribbean archaeology (see Hofman et al., eds 2008, for an extensive review and Curet
and Stringer 2010).
The aim of our approach is to broaden the understanding of the socio-cultural parameters that may have influenced the movement of people and the establishment of interaction patterns throughout the circum-Caribbean. This approach is being applied to map
artefact distribution patterns on local, regional and pan-regional scales as well as to contextualize the origin of people and goods from a site level perspective. The combination of
the resulting data is expected to expand our knowledge on the nature of the networks, how
they interlock, as well as on the variability and changes that would have occurred in such
social relationships through time and how these were articulated between communities of
differing socio-political complexity. The multi-disciplinary approach includes studies of
the iconography, cultural associations and spatial distributions of material culture remains,
studies into mortuary practices and palaeopathology, starch grain analysis, functional analysis of artefacts and the application of archaeometric techniques. The latter consist of X-ray
fluorescence and X-ray diffraction to determine the provenance of raw materials and stable

18

communities in contact

isotope analysis to determine the dietary patterns and the origin of buried populations.
Such data on burial assemblages representative both in time and space are imperative to
map the network of human mobility and thereby begin to fathom the mechanisms at play
(e.g. exchange of marriage partners, capture of enemies, post-mortem mobility) over time,
across different socio-political settings and at multiple scales.

Networks of the circum-Caribbean: pan-regional, regional and local
distributions of material culture remains
Several types of (raw) material such as ceramics, lithics, shell, bone, wood and guanín
(a gold-copper alloy) likely circulated within local, regional and pan-regional networks
throughout the circum-Caribbean synchronically or at various points in time. Ceramics,
lithics and guanín are the most viable categories for analysis given their ubiquitous (ceramics/lithics) or highly informative nature (guanín). However, much of the research until now
has relied on formal stylistic similarities between such objects, leaving a void as to their
social meaning (see also Geurds, this volume), but suggesting some degree of community
interaction and the existence of networks at various scales. The social meaning and value
of such objects in a particular interaction network is dependant on the nature and type
of the social sphere they are part of and used in, i.e. the kind of social distance (Mol, this
volume).
In order to study the movement of objects and the identification of distribution patterns in their raw state or as finished objects it is imperative to combine artefact style studies with provenance data at all scales of analysis. Although the current knowledge on the
provenance of raw materials and objects is still in its infancy in the circum-Caribbean region when compared to other regions worldwide (e.g. Bishop et al. 1988; Dickinson et al.
2000; Stoltman 1989), there are some notable exceptions (e.g. Boomert 2000; Cooper et
al. 2008; Curet 2005; Harlow et al. 2006; Helms 1987; Hofman et al. 2008; Knippenberg
2006; Newsom and Wing 2004; Rodríguez Ramos 2007; Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán
Jiménez 2006; Pagán Jiménez 2006, this volume; Siegel and Severin 1993; Valcárcel Rojas
et al. 2008; Valcárcel Rojas et al., this volume; Watters and Scaglion 1994). The outcome of
these studies has started to advance a holistic perspective to the patterns of artefact distribution, interaction and inter-societal engagements that existed at different scales through
time as illustrated by the following examples.

Pan-regional distributions (Figure 2)
The earliest Ceramic Age lapidary items in the Antilles made of greenstone materials such as
nephrite, jadeitite and serpentinite (referred to as ‘true jade’ and ‘social jade’ by Rodríguez
Ramos 2010) have obvious iconographic counterparts in the Costa Rica area. They represent condors or king vultures (see Boomert 2000 and Rodríguez Ramos, this volume)
with trophy heads. On the basis of the similarities in the two areas, Rodríguez Ramos
(2010) hypothesized that macro-regional social interactions existed between the IsthmoColombian area and Puerto Rico and maybe the Lesser Antilles during early Huecoid and
Saladoid times, representing either the movement of people, commodity exchange or the
flow of ideas. In the period following the emergence of the Huecoid and Saladoid, the majority of the exotic raw materials were replaced by local rock types and foreign iconographic
themes, very often representing mainland fauna were substituted by insular motifs (see also
Hofman et al. 2007; Roe 1989).
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0

600 km

Figure 2 Pan-regional distributions of greenstone and guanín objects.

Another example is that of the distribution of greenstone (often nephrite) frog pendants
or muiraquitão which circulated between Amazonia, the Guianas and the Antilles from
Saladoid times onwards (Boomert 1987; Rostain 2006).
The presence of jadeite at Greater and Lesser Antillean sites has been documented for
early to late Ceramic times (Rodríguez Ramos 2010, this volume). By means of X-ray
diffraction Harlow et al. (1996) postulated a possible Guatemalan provenance for celts
from Antigua and Vieques. Recently, however, jadeite sources have also been identified in
Hispaniola and Cuba raising doubts over the Guatemalan origin (Cárdenas Párraga et al.
2010; Garcia Casco et al. 2009). Nevertheless, it is obvious that jade moved through the
Greater and Lesser Antilles throughout the Ceramic Age, linking communities in these
places. The absence of production debris suggests that celts and axes circulated as finished
objects. The occurrence of jadeite celts all the way down to the island of St. Lucia and
maybe even further south during Late Ceramic Age times suggests that a network in which
these objects circulated was in place and even expanded in the centuries prior to colonization. The axes may have formed part of a circulation system by which they were transferred
between elites. In the latter case they most likely formed part of an exchange network tying
together the Greater and Lesser Antilles as supported by the many ritual items which circulated through the islands at the same time (Hofman and Hoogland 2004; Oliver 2009;
see also Ostapkowich et al., this volume).
A last example is that of the occurrence of guanín objects in the Greater Antilles.
The distribution of these items also evinces long-distance relationships with the IsthmoColombian area (Valcárcel Rojas et al. 2008). Fragments of hammered ornaments made
of a type of gold and pendants made of guanín, are found in Puerto Rico and Vieques in
Saladoid deposits and in the Dominican Republic and Cuba during the Late Ceramic Age
(Siegel and Severin 1993). Stylistic analysis places the origin of some of the guanín pieces
in mainland South America, namely in the Tairona and Zenú areas of Colombia. A comparable piece is known from the Mazaruni River area in Guyana (Whitehead 1996) which
may suggest that trade of these objects also took place along the coast or rivers of northern

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South America. It is very likely that the trade of guanín with the Colombian ateliers continued during the early colonial period as is evidenced by the site of Chorro de Maíta in
north-eastern Cuba where numerous gold objects have been found as grave goods in burials
(Valcárcel Rojas et al. 2008; Cooper et al. 2008; see also Valcárcel et al. this volume).

Regional distributions (Figures 3 and 4)
The spread of Chican Ostionoid ceramics and ritual items from Puerto Rico and Hispaniola
into the Lesser Antilles is suggestive of the existence of firm social relationships between
these two areas during the Late Ceramic Age (Hoogland and Hofman 1999; Crock 2000;
Crock and Petersen 2004). Objects as shell inlays (mostly of Lobatus sp. [formerly known
as Strombus sp.]), masks (guaízas), stone three-pointers, and ritual paraphernalia associated with the cohoba ritual are found throughout the Lesser Antilles as far south as the
Grenadines. The large stone three-pointers, often referred to as zemis, showing anthropozoomorphic features, considered to be the representations of ancestral spirits, were used by
the Taíno caciques as legitimizing devices, advocating esoteric relationships with Greater
Antillean shamans and ideology (see also Allaire 1990; Crock 2000; Curet 1992; Hofman
1997; Hofman et al. 2007; McGinnis 1997; Pané 1999 [1571]). Some of the objects could
be imitations or copies of Taíno items and would reflect the syncretic assimilation of Taíno
iconographic features into the stylistic norms of the area (Allaire 1990; Hofman 1997;
Hofman et al. 2007). Such imitations or copies have been recovered from the islands of
Martinique and St. Lucia. One of these artefacts is a seated female pottery figurine, interpreted as a drug-inhaling stand, found at the Lavoutte site in north-eastern St. Lucia
(Bullen and Bullen 1970; Hofman and Branford 2009), which may be a local imitation of
the wooden cohoba stands of the Greater Antilles. The transportation of a fair number of
these ritual objects towards the Lesser Antilles has been seen as reflecting alliance building,
feasting or esoteric interaction, but might also be an expression of antagonism (raiding,
appropriation) (Hofman et al. 2008; Oliver 2009).

0

600 km

Figure 3 Regional distributions of Taíno ritual paraphernalia.

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Figure 4 Regional distributions of mainland related Cayo pottery in the southern Lesser Antilles.

The identification of caraípe (burned bark) temper ceramics of the Cayo complex in
the southern Lesser Antilles presumes contacts with the mainland of South America during
the Late Ceramic Age and early colonial period (Boomert 1986, this volume). Cayo pottery is distributed between Grenada and Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, with St. Vincent and
Dominica being the central nodes of this interaction sphere (Allaire 1994; Boomert 1986,
1995, 2009; Bright 2011; Kirby 1974). Caraípe is not native to the islands but to the South
American mainland and stylistically Cayo pottery is affiliated to the Koriabo ceramics of
the Guianas. Its distribution in the Antilles suggests relationships with northern South
America. On the other hand, some stylistic affiliations also exist between particular Cayo
vessel shapes and decorative motifs and Chican Ostionoid ceramics. In addition, the presence of Taíno ritual paraphernalia, i.e. a snuff inhaler of manatee bone in the Cayo assemblage of Rivière de Roseau in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, suggests that relationships also existed with the north-eastern Caribbean (Hofman et al. 2007; Richard 2001). This pottery
complex has been associated with the enigmatic Island Carib occupation of the Windward
Islands. Their presence on the islands is seen as the result of a dual process of population
movement and interaction with communities on the South American mainland on the one
hand and the taking on of local traits on the other. The Island Carib were ethnically and
socio-politically fully mainlanders, but were linguistically and to a certain extent culturally
deviated from the mainland Carib. Their patterns of settlement, kinship and political authority were fully identical to those of the latter (Boomert 2000; Whitehead 2005).

Local distributions (Figure 5)
Flint was procured from Long Island, Antigua as early as the Archaic Age. Using Inductively
coupled plasma mass spectrometry, Knippenberg (2006) has provided a detailed analysis of
the local or micro-regional distribution of this raw material through time. Its exploitation
and supply commenced during the Archaic Age in the area between Antigua and Anguilla
with a few pieces known from Puerto Rico. This network expanded during the Saladoid/

22

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0

600 km

Figure 5 Local distributions of raw materials (flint, St. Martin greenstone and calci-rudite) in the
northern Lesser Antilles in the Archaic and Ceramic Ages.

Huecoid and post-Saladoid periods as far south as Martinique, St. Lucia and potentially St. Vincent. However, in these islands only small quantities of flint have been found
among the otherwise abundantly represented jasper, which is locally available there. The
Long Island flint source can be considered a major node in the north-eastern Caribbean
interaction network (including the northern Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico). The source
must have been discovered by the earliest insular settlers who traversed and explored the
area around 4000 to 3000 BP. It has been suggested elsewhere that the sites on Antigua,
Barbuda, Saba, St. Martin, Anguilla and possibly also Puerto Rico, formed part of a yearly
cycle in which communities to-and-froed between the islands in a form of archipelagic
resource mobility and in which the Long Island flint source assumed major importance
(Hofman and Hoogland 2003; Hofman et al. 2006). The high concentration of Archaic
Age sites on Antigua and Long Island themselves testify to the intensity of flint exploitation around the source (de Mille 2005; Knippenberg 2006, this volume; Nodine 1990; van
Gijn 1993).
Subsequent Huecoid and Saladoid communities which partially developed locally out
of the former and amalgamated with newcomers from various parts of South and Central
America. These mainland communities maintained regular social relationships with the
north-eastern Caribbean through expeditions, explorations and voyages before colonizing
the area (see also Curet 1995; Hofman et al. in prep.). It is not surprising that the Early
Ceramic Age sites are located in exactly this same area (Punta Candelero, El Convento,
Teclá and Hacienda Grande (Puerto Rico), La Hueca/Sorcé (Vieques), Hope Estate (St.
Martin), Trants (Monserrat), Morel (Grande Terre, Guadeloupe), Cathédrale and Gare
Maritime in Basse-Terre (Guadeloupe) Talisseronde and Folle Anse (Marie-Galante). Both
the Huecoid and Saladoid are known to have exploited the Long Island flint source extensively, each employing their own technique (Bérard 2008; Rodríguez Ramos 2010).
Competition over the flint sources would have brought about emulative behaviour expressed in the abundant stylistic repertoire and material culture in both cases (Hofman et

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al. in prep.). During this same time period sources of greenstone and calci-rudite started
to be exploited on the island of St. Martin. The Hope Estate site appears to have been an
important production site for the greenstone source at Hope Hill. Knippenberg (2006)
postulated that a vast interaction network existed for this material and others within the
north-eastern Caribbean throughout the Ceramic Age, though with shifting boundaries
over time. Based on the presence and absence of raw materials and fabrication debris he
identified the core areas of production and redistribution of the finished objects. This area
coincides with that of the Long Island flint. Crock (2000) hypothesized on the basis of
similar data that at the end of the Ceramic Age, Anguilla would have formed the core of
an exchange system that would have functioned as a political authority or peer polity encompassing a number of settlements or even a number of islands. Crock (2000) suggests
that one of these polities was formed around the islands of Anguilla and Saba together
with Montserrat, Nevis and possibly St. Barths and St. Kitts. Using network analysis, Mol
(2010) recently argued that not Anguilla but Saba may have been the major node in this
multi-island system from which control was exercised over the St. Martin and Anguilla
sources as well as over the distribution of the raw materials and finished objects throughout the region. The site of Kelbey’s Ridge 2 on Saba is known to have been an outpost of a
Hispaniolan cacicazgo in the fourteenth century (see Hoogland 1996; Knippenberg 2006),
and one of the single sites which was still occupied in the northern Lesser Antilles during
that time (Hofman and Hoogland 2004; Hoogland and Hofman 1999)

Mobility and exchange in the Lesser Antilles: a site level perspective
Recent research in the Lesser Antilles has provided detailed site level information on the
provenance of people and (raw) materials, procurement strategies, and technological skills.
These data have proved crucial in getting to grips with the underlying mechanisms, socio-cultural parameters and choices that may have influenced intra-and intercommunity
social relationships in space and time. The following three case studies from Guadeloupe
and Saba illustrate the various types of mobility and exchange that have operated in the
area during the Archaic and Ceramic Ages and the possible nature of the underlying social
relationships.

Archipelagic resource mobility (Figure 6)
The Archaic Age site of Plum Piece dates to 3200 cal BP and is situated at an elevation of
400 m amsl in the interior forest of the island of Saba in the northern Lesser Antilles. The
restricted exploitation of seasonally bound species (i.e. the mountain crab (Gercarcinus
ruricola) and the Audubon shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri lherminierii), the remains of
non-durable shelters, and the number of abandoned tools (large grinding stones) in the
refuse midden indicate that Plum Piece was a home-base campsite that was probably successively occupied during a particular season when the main subsistence resources could
easily be caught. The limited investment in building and refuse disposal behaviour, the low
energy expended on exploiting food resources, and a forest-oriented subsistence suggest
that specific resources were being targeted. Based on the location of the site and the type
of artefacts recovered (flint scrapers, shell adzes, multi-purpose stone tools), it is suggested
that woodworking for the making of canoes and the gathering and managing of plant
resources was taking place. Flint at Plum Piece was imported from Long Island, Antigua

24

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0

600 km

Figure 6 Yearly mobility cycle in which the Plum Piece occupants moved between Antigua and Puerto
Rico.

(Knippenberg personal communication). The near total lack of cortex on the flint material suggests that cores arrived at the site in pre-worked condition. However, the scarcity
of cores suggests that they were transported further to enable the tools to be made at other
locations (Barbuda, St. Martin, Anguilla and possibly Puerto Rico) visited by the early
Archaic Age peoples who were part of a yearly mobility cycle. From this time on, the source
on Long Island functioned as a major node in a micro-regional network which included
part of the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico and which operated into pre-contact times.
Plum Piece likely functioned alternately and complementarily with campsites and settlements on other islands. The occupants would have maintained a yearly mobility cycle
that took advantage of the seasonality of biotic resources across the archipelago in those
areas that could be targeted for non-subsistence activities: a form of archipelagic resource
mobility in its broadest sense. Seasonality markers such as animal cycles (breeding season of
birds, nesting of turtles, migration of land crabs and spawning time of reef fishes), the succession of dry, moderately humid and wet seasons, hurricanes, the navigability of the open
sea, and the changing configuration of the sun, moon, and stars, all probably contributed
to shape the northern Lesser Antilles as a ‘geo-cycle’ in which Archaic Age subsistence, settlement, and specific resource procurement rotated (Hofman et al. 2006).

Inter-community mobility (Figure 7)
The Late Ceramic Age occupation at the site of Anse à la Gourde dates from AD 1000 until
1350. An earlier component dates to the late Saladoid period, i.e. AD 500; burned posts
and ash layers suggest the sudden abandonment of the settlement after this period and a
subsequent re-occupation later on in time. The Saladoid settlement was located closer to
the seafront and coastal erosion has erased large parts of it. The site of Anse à la Gourde
is situated on a limestone plateau in the north-eastern part of the island of Grande-Terre,
Guadeloupe in the northern Lesser Antilles. The peninsula of Pointe des Chateaux and the
islands of La Désirade and Iles de la Petite Terre are dotted with smaller and larger settle-

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0

600 km

Figure 7 Networks in which the Anse à la Gourde inhabitants were involved during the Late Ceramic
Age.

ments as well as special activity sites (de Waal 2006). The rocky island of La Désirade is
located at visible distance and in front of the site there is the outcrop of L’Eperon. Both
have been interpreted as important meteorological and astronomical features for the inhabitants of the site, particularly for predicting hurricanes (Duin in prep.). Radiocarbon
dates point to three occupation phases during the Late Ceramic Age time span, i.e. around
cal AD 900-1100, 1100-1250, and 1250-1350. The ceramic assemblage belongs to the
Mamoran/Troumassan Troumassoid to early and late Suazan Troumassoid subseries and a
small portion of the ceramics bears Cayo and Morne Cybèle traits (Delpuech et al. 1999;
Hofman et al. 1999, 2001). The ceramics obviously reflect a diversity of influences from
both the northern and southern Lesser Antilles suggesting that Anse à la Gourde was situated in the transition zone between two influence spheres, where ceramic styles of different
origins amalgamated.
The settlement is surrounded by a doughnut shaped refuse midden. Houses and other
domestic structures, hearths and refuse pits as well as a number of auxiliary structures such
as drying racks, hammock supports and barbacoas made up the habitation area which borders a vacant space, possibly used as a plaza. There were approximately 24 round and oval
houses, with diameters between 5 and 12 m and the palimpsest of these structures imply
intensive rebuilding in the same area over many centuries. Around 83 burials containing
92 individuals are located in clusters near postholes indicating that some of them were situated under house floors and others just outside the houses. However, there is no firm evidence so far that the postholes and burials were contemporaneous. Some of the burials are
located in postholes suggesting that they were purposely deposited in older (ancestral) constructions. The diverse and complex mortuary behaviour (primary, secondary, single, and
composite burials, manipulation of bones) reflects internal differentiation and personalized
treatment of the dead (Hoogland et al. 2001). The deceased individuals mostly comprise
adult individuals; children seemingly belonged to another category of social persons or to
no category at all and therefore received a different mortuary treatment than the adults

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and were possibly buried outside the village. A quarter of the females and males is of nonlocal origin, and originated from one of the neighbouring limestone or volcanic islands
(Hoogland et al. 2010; Laffoon and de Vos, this volume). There is no differentiation in
burial practices between the local and non-local individuals. However, some of the non-local females are buried with non-local goods such as greenstone from St. Martin, flint from
Long Island, Antigua, and one female was found with more than a thousand shell beads
of Lobatus gigas (formerly Strombus gigas), all of similar size. The latter are assumed to be
of non-local fabrication because no production debris for these beads was found at the site
(Hoogland et al. 2010). Their origin is not known, but there is evidence in the region that
specific sites were specialized in the production of such beads (Carlson 1995). Strings of
hundreds to several thousands of small, flat shell beads of equal size known as uruebe or
quirípa formed a major social valuable exchanged during early colonial times between the
llanos of Colombia and Venezuela to as far as Trinidad, the Lesser Antilles and the coast
of the Guianas (Gassón 2000). Whether the pre-colonial specimens represent objects that
formed part of an exchange cycle such as the early colonial quirípa is of course not self-evident but plausible (see also Boomert 2000; Hofman et al. 2007).
Next to these foreign burial goods, a range of non-local lithic artefacts such celts, axes,
adzes, scrapers and polishing stones made of greenstone and calci-rudite from the St.
Martin/Anguilla region, flint from Antigua and green pebbles from La Désirade were transported to the site as raw materials or finished objects (Knippenberg 2006). Also tools and
ornaments made of exotic animal bone dog (Canis familiaris), agouti (Dasyprocta leporina),
opossum (Didelphis sp.), armadillo (Dasypus sp.), and manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) likely originated from the mainland (Grouard 2001). Such objects may have been part
of a shaman’s ritual regalia (see also S. Duin, this volume). These are probably to be considered common exchange items as they have also been encountered at other sites in the region (Fitzpatrick et al. 2009; Newsom and Wing 2004). Several ceremonial items are reminiscent of the Greater Antillean communities and the same is true for fragments of jadeite
celts and axes. The fair number of broken three-pointers at the site of Anse à la Gourde
has been hypothesized as the neutralization of instruments of Taíno cacical power acquired
through looting or raiding (Hofman et al. 2008). Similar objects with the tips broken off
are known from the contemporaneously occupied site of Morel, also on Guadeloupe, and
from the so-called batey del cemí in Tibes, Puerto Rico (Walker 2010). Here they have been
found associated with the Elenan Ostionoid occupation of this ceremonial centre and were
found beneath the stone pavements of the batey. They may have been intentionally broken
or ‘killed’ in ritual sacrifice and deposited as caches under the pavement.
The layout of the Late Ceramic Age settlement at Anse à la Gourde, distribution of burials and mortuary treatment and the nature of the material culture remains sketch a picture
of a small-scale community in which a close relationship between the living and the dead
persisted over time. The worship of ancestors was an important aspect of the worldview of
this and other insular communities and this may be reflected in the continuous occupation
and re-occupation of the same locales, the rebuilding of structures and the interment of
kin on ancestral grounds in the context of the household. This would strengthen the idea
of social memory whereby people rebuild their houses and bury their dead in the same location for many centuries (Climo and Cattell 2002; Hodder and Cessford 2004; see also
Morsink 2006; van den Bel and Romon 2010; Hofman and Branford 2009 for application
to the Caribbean). The multi-stylistic pottery repertoire and the recurrent presence of for-

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27

eign lithic materials and artefacts from long used source areas accentuate the integration of
the Anse à la Gourde community in a regional social network thousands of years old. This
network was made up of smaller and larger interaction spheres in which people, perishable
and non-perishable goods, ideas and information as well as cultural and social practices
merged over time. Kinship systems and residence rules would have played an important
role in determining pre-mortem and possibly also post-mortem mobility patterns. Anse à
la Gourde could well have functioned as an ancestral burial ground where people from the
neighbouring villages and hamlets were buried next to the inhabitants of the settlement
over a long period of time.

The rise and decline of an outpost colony (Figure 8)
The small Saban pre-contact site of Kelbey’s Ridge 2 dates to AD 1250-1400. Due to its
elevated position, at 140 m amsl, the site provides a good view of the neighbouring islands
of the northern Lesser Antilles and control can be exercised over a fair stretch of sea. The
2000 m2 Saba Bank, known for its rich fishing grounds, is situated in the vicinity of the
island. The site consists of a long curved scatter along the ridge with dirt swept towards the
back of the residential area. The core of the habitation area comprises a trajectory of five
small round houses and cooking huts and four large hearths containing large numbers of
partly burned faunal remains of terrestrial animals, fish and shell. This suggests that they
were used as cooking or roasting fires: barbacoas. Many of the fish species identified were
indeed caught on the Saba Bank (Hoogland 1996).
The seven burials are located under the house floors. They comprise ten individuals,
namely three adults and seven children, pointing to a high infant mortality. The burial
ritual is varied and complex and consists of both primary and secondary burials; two of
the seven burials are composite, containing an adult with the remains of one or two children. Strontium isotope analysis suggests a heterogeneous origin of the Kelbey’s Ridge 2
population (Laffoon and Hoogland 2011). One of the burials is that of a female individual
of more than 30 years old showing several examples of trauma throughout the skeleton
(Weston, personal communication). The individual had four well-healed depressed fractures on the cranial vault, which all displayed a similar degree of healing, suggesting that
they were contemporaneous. In addition, there are bilateral fractures of the radius and
ulna, which were also well-healed and displayed a similar degree of healing, suggesting they
also happened at the same time. If the latter fractures occurred simultaneously, one can
visualize a scenario whereby the forearms were fractured as they were raised and crossed,
distal right shafts over left proximal shafts, to protect the head from a succession of blows.
Depressed skull fractures are caused by blunt-force trauma and usually result from being
struck on the head by a weapon, though punches and kicks of sufficient force can also cause
these injuries. This kind of trauma infers that interpersonal violence has occurred.
The many non-local artefacts coming from the neighbouring islands of Antigua,
Anguilla and St. Martin suggest integration into the local north-eastern Antilles network,
similar to what was evidenced for the earlier Anse à la Gourde site. At this point in time
the network only operated in the Leeward Island area, and only a few islands were occupied. The ceramic assemblage is stylistically affiliated to the Chican Ostionoid subseries of
the Greater Antilles and more specifically to the Boca Chica style from eastern Hispaniola.
Compositional analysis using X-ray fluorescence revealed that the majority of the pottery
is manufactured of local volcanic clays from Saba and neighbouring island St. Eustatius. A

28

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0

600 km

Figure 8 Networks in which the Kelbey’s Ridge 2 inhabitants were involved.

few fragments, though, are probably Greater Antillean imports (Hofman et al. 2008). The
ceremonial paraphernalia include a snuff inhaler of manatee bone in the shape of a fish
clearly reminiscent of the Greater Antillean snuffing tubes (Hoogland and Hofman 1999).
The shape of the fish may be suggestive of the importance of fishing for the inhabitants of
this site (see also Oliver 2009).
On the basis of its material culture affiliations, the provenance of certain materials and
goods, the demographic composition of the population and the heterogeneity of the isotope signatures of the buried population, the settlement at Kelbey’s Ridge 2 can be seen
as an outpost of one of the Taíno cacicazgos. The reasons for occupying the tiny island of
Saba during this episode may be fourfold (see also Hoogland and Hofman 1999). First,
a group originating from the Greater Antilles and fleeing social and/or political instability in the area could have settled in the northern Lesser Antilles. This movement would
have involved a small group of Taíno colonists or pioneers and would have entailed the
incorporation of this small island into the Taíno social sphere. The trauma found on one
of the buried individuals points to interpersonal violence which occurred at least five years
prior to death. Although domestic violence cannot be discounted, it is very well possible
that the trauma was the result of violent aggression from outside (warfare). A second option may have been the desire to establish a supportive base or gateway community in the
Leeward Islands in order to control one of the major routes of exchange and communication between the Greater Antilles and the South American mainland. This matches the
general Late Ceramic Age settlement pattern also seen on other islands. It is noteworthy
that several sites in south-central Puerto Rico equally present Boca Chica style ceramics.
These sites are situated in the hills and along the coast, and the occurrence of this pottery
has been interpreted as the result of exchange or possibly as reflecting the character of these
sites as Hispaniolan outposts (Lundberg 1985; Torres 2010). Third, economic motivations
could have evolved from a need to obtain specific resources through the exploitation of the
more extensive fishing grounds of the Saba Bank and similarly the Anguilla Bank and the
Virgin Islands. Anegada provides a complementary situation where salt apparently was col-

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29

lected for preserving fish (Lundberg 1985). A last possibility entails the combination of all
these factors, in which the first option represents an incentive for colonization, whereas the
second and third options legitimize the existence of this small outpost largely socio-politically and economically dependent on the Taíno heartland. The high infant mortality and
the relatively short occupation span of the site (approx. 150 years), however, suggest that
this outpost ultimately failed.

Discussion
The existence of highly mobile communities and interlocking interaction networks in the
Caribbean mirrors the cultural plurality of the pre-colonial social (is)landscape, formerly
downplayed in a uni-linear approach which postulated a non-dynamic or rather slow-moving migratory pattern that in fact goes against all we know of how these societies lived on
the mainland (Hofman and Carlin 2010; Duin 2009, R. Duin, this volume; Mans, this
volume). People, goods and ideas moved at high speed through the Caribbean at various
moments in time during which cultural boundaries between communities were doubtless being constantly shifted and negotiated, adopted and rejected. Some social networks
were created, altered and rapidly abandoned; others persisted for thousands of years. The
mechanisms underlying this complex of contacts are often difficult to grasp but they are
certainly diverse, dynamic and multi-linear.
The diverse geological structure of the Caribbean, reflected in its irregular distribution of natural resources, may have necessitated procurement strategies targeting the wider
region for less easily attainable materials but stimulated craft specialization on those materials to which communities had easy access. Although communities were economically
rather independent and self-sufficient, they obviously specialized in certain products for
the purpose of exchange and maintaining social relationships with neighbouring communities, comparable to the situation in the Guiana’s (e.g. Rostain 2006).
The presence of raw materials, tools, ornaments and iconographic themes in the islands
originating from the mainland(s) during the initial occupational phases of the islands may
reflect linkages or ‘lifelines’ that were considered to be crucial in times of environmental
hazards or just to provide the demographically unstable colonies with suitable marriage
partners, thus acting as a safety net (Hofman et al. 2007; Keegan 2004; Kirch 2000; Moore
2001). The establishment of firm interaction networks in the Antilles during the Archaic
Age, such as is the case around Long Island for the sourcing of flint material, has proved to
be essential in the colonization and development of the north-eastern Caribbean micro-region (Leeward Islands to Puerto Rico). Huecoid and Saladoid communities developed and
settled in this region from 400 and 200 BC onwards. They participated in an extensive network of social relationships operating over long distances, i.e. the Antilles, northern South
America, the Isthmo-Colombian area and coastal Central America (Hofman et al. 2007;
Rodríguez Ramos 2010; Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006; Siegel and Séverin
1993). The cultural transformations associated with the end of the Saladoid era are crucial
for understanding the socio-political, economic, and ideological situation of the succeeding periods. At first, stabilized living conditions afforded by adaptation to the natural and
social environment led to an increase of settlement stability and a differential use of the
landscape and the formation of localized micro-regions. Communities acted independently
with respect to resource procurement and social matters. Local artefact styles developed
across the archipelago and ceramic style zones emerged reflecting ties between communities

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communities in contact

on a single island but also across multiple islands. An important web of social relationships
was established between the northern Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The
role of jadeite celts and axes within this circulation system persisted. The absence of production debris suggests that these items were transported as finished objects either through
direct procurement or down-the-line exchange and most likely formed part of an exchange
network tying together communities on a regional level. This is also supported by the many
ritual items which circulated throughout the islands (see also Ostapkowicz et al., this volume). These items, whether exchange objects or copies, may be regarded as social valuables
(probably in the same vein as the jadeite celts and axes) and would have gained prestige
while they were handed over across large distances (see also Mol 2007, this volume). The
exact mechanisms underlying the spread of these goods and/or ideas to the Lesser Antilles
of course remain shrouded in uncertainty but the distribution all the way down to the
southern Lesser Antilles strongly suggests incorporation in the Taíno realm (Allaire 1990;
Hoogland and Hofman 1991; Rouse 1992). In multi-village polities and regional settlement hierarchies, such as in the Guiana’s, goods would regularly move within and between
communities (see also R.S. Duin, this volume) and communities would extend beyond
one village. As Wilson (1990) pointed out, the flow of tribute and the trade and exchange
of goods were important in the Greater Antillean cacical societies, particularly in negotiating alliances. Symbolically laden objects were moving through exchange networks tying
together the wider region. Local community headmen or shaman-leaders could have used
‘Taínan’ esoteric materials in community ceremonies to reinforce their position as intermediaries between the natural and supernatural worlds (see also Curet 1996; Helms 1979).
On the other hand, these relationships simultaneously may have given rise to antagonistic
enterprises in which raiding and appropriation were important tenets, as may be reflected
by the broken or ceremonially ‘killed’ zemis at Anse à la Gourde (Hofman et al. 2008).
Communities in the southern Antilles on the other hand were in permanent contact
with northern South America, as suggested by the material culture affiliations. They remained so until the early colonial period based on the early colonial accounts, but also recently corroborated by archaeological research on the island of St. Vincent where Koriabo
related Cayo ceramics were found inlaid with colonial seed beads (Boomert, this volume;
Bright, this volume). The presence of guanín in Cuba and Hispaniola demonstrates the far
reaching contacts that were maintained with western Venezuela and Colombia in the era of
Amerindian-European encounter, but which has its roots as early as Saladoid times.
All in all the data suggest that Caribbean communities partook in a vast pan-regional
network system from the onset of their discovery of the insular world in which alliances
and hostilities alternated, creating a scene of social, political and ideological communication across the Caribbeanscape similar to what is known from the ancient and contemporary South American mainland (e.g. Alexiades 2009; Boomert 2000; R.S. Duin, this
volume; Gassón 2000; Heckenberger 2005, this volume; Heinen and García-Castro 2000;
Mans, this volume; Rostain 2006; Whitehead 1993). For now it remains to be unravelled
how the multiple networks that were operating at various scales within this overarching
system interlocked and how the social engagements among the communities of differing
socio-political complexity within the networks were articulated through time. The further
application of this multi-disciplinary and multi-scalar approach is expected to make great
strides in advancing our understanding of the mechanisms that underlay human mobility
and the exchange of goods and ideas in the circum-Caribbean (see also Curet and Stringer
2010; Curet and Hauser 2011; Fitzpatrick and Ross 2010; Hofman and Bright 2010).
Hofman & Hoogland

31

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1993 Flint Exploitation on Long Island, Antigua, West Indies. Analecta Praehistorica
Leidensia 26:183-197.

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Veloz Maggiolo, M.
1980 Las Sociedades Arcaicas de Santo Domingo. Museo del Hombre Dominicano y
Fundación García Arévalo, Santo Domingo.
Walker, J.B.
2010 Lithics from the Tibes Ceremonial Site: Analysis of the Stone Artefacts from the
1996-1999 Field Seasons. In Tibes: People, Power, and Ritual at the Centre of the Cosmos,
edited by L.A. Curet and L.M. Stringer, pp. 152-176. University of Alabama Press,
Tuscaloosa.
Watters, D.R.
1997 Maritime Trade in the Prehistoric Eastern Caribbean. In The Indigenous People
of the Caribbean, edited by S.M. Wilson, pp. 88-99. University Press of Florida,
Gainesville.
Watters, D.R., and I. Rouse
1989 Environmental Diversity and Maritime Adaptations in the Caribbean Area. In
Early Ceramic Population Lifeways and Adaptive Strategies in the Caribbean, edited by
P.E. Siegel, pp. 129-144. BAR. International Series 506. Archaeopress, Oxford.
Watters, D.R., and R. Scaglion
1994 Beads and Pendants from Trants, Montserrat: Implications for the Prehistoric
Lapidary Industry of the Caribbean. Annals of Carnegie Museum 63(3):215-237.
Whitehead , N.L.
1993 Ethnic Transformation and Historical Discontinuity in Native Amazonia and
Uayana, 1500-1900. L’Homme 33:285-305.
1996 The Mazaruni dragon. Golden metals and elite exchanges in the Caribbean,
Orinoco and the Amazon. In Power and trade: regional interaction in the intermediate area of the Americas, edited by C.H. Langebaek and F.C. Arroyo, pp. 107-132.
Departamento de Antropología, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia
2005 (editor) Wolves from the Sea: Readings in the anthropology of the native Caribbean.
KITLV Press, Leiden.
Wilson, S.M.
1990 Introduction. In Hispaniola Caribbean Chiefdoms in the age of Columbus, edited
by S.M. Wilson, pp. 1-34. University of Arizona Press, Tuscaloosa and London.
1993 The cultural mosaic of the indigenous Caribbean. Proceedings of the British
Academy 81:37-66.

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T he

social in the circum -Caribbean

Toward a transcontextual order

Alexander Geurds

Past archaeological interpretations of the pre-Colonial occupation on the Greater and
Lesser Antilles sketch indigenous societies as relatively isolated from the pan-regional circum-Caribbean. This model is disputed in the recent proposals for pan-regional interaction in the Caribbean; a more seaward oriented perspective, incorporating large parts of
the Central American and South American Caribbean coast. This article reflects on the
ideas put forward in this cultural configuration to examine how they incorporate material
culture from these mainland regions. This reflection will be used to show that these studies
show an imbalance emphasizing homogeneity and similarity at the level of the individual
object at the expense of diversity and difference in regional and local-level contexts, and to
propose the integration of contextual information from the Caribbean littoral in analyzing
the resemblance and meaning of objects.
Interpretaciones arqueológicas existentes de la ocupación prehispánica en las Antillas
Mayores y Menores representan a las sociedades indígenas como aisladas del Mar Caribe.
Este modelo es discutido en propuestas recientes de interacciones pan-regionales en el
Caribe, una perspectiva más orientada al mar, que incorpora gran parte de las costas
Caribeñas de América Central y el Norte de Sur América. En este artículo se reflexiona
sobre las ideas presentadas en esta configuración cultural para examinar cómo incorporan
la cultura material de estas regiones continentales. La reflexión se aprovechará para mostrar
que dichos estudios muestran un desequilibrio en enfatizando la homogeneidad y la similitud a nivel del objeto individual a costa de la diversidad y la diferencia en los contextos
regionales y locales, y de proponer la integración de la información contextual del litoral
Caribe en el análisis de la semejanza y el significado de los objetos.
Jusqu’à présent, les interprétations archéologiques de l’occupation préhistorique des
Antilles dressaient le portrait de sociétés amérindiennes relativement isolées du reste de la
région circum-caraïbe. Ce modèle a été remis en question par les récentes modélisations
de l’interaction pan-régionale dans les Caraïbes, davantage orientées vers l’interface maritime et intégrant une grande partie des côtes caraïbes de l’Amérique centrale et du nord de
l’Amérique du Sud. Cet article s’intéresse aux théories développées dans ce cadre culturel
et examine la manière dont elles intègrent la culture matérielle de ces régions continentales. Cette réflexion aboutira, à la fois, à une mise en relief du déséquilibre montré par
ces études, privilégiant l’homogénéité et la similarité à l’échelle de l’objet individualisé au
détriment de la diversité et des différences observées aux échelles régionales et locales, mais
aussi à proposer la prise en compte d’informations contextuelles sur le littoral caraïbe dans
l’analyse des similitudes et de la signification des objets.

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45

Introduction
The puzzle of how to perceive the relation between indigenous societies that surrounded
the Caribbean Sea during the pre-Colonial era remains vexing. Now, more than sixty years
after Julian Steward proposed a solution to this pan-regional problem to which he referred
as the Circum-Caribbean thesis, this pan-regional perspective has seen a renaissance of
some magnitude in the concept of a Greater Caribbean culture area (in line with Rodríguez
Ramos 2007a,b; Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2007; Wilson 2007; Callaghan
2001; Curet 2004). This chapter will discuss the progress made since the mid-twentieth
century regarding trans-Caribbean comparisons (see also Hofman and Hoogland, this volume), and analyse some of the recently proposed evidence for pan-regional contact across
the Caribbean littoral.

Cultural diversity in the circum-Caribbean
Recently, the archaeology of pre-Colonial societies in the regions surrounding the Caribbean
Sea has witnessed an important trend. Diversity and fragmentation are no longer perceived
as an epistemological problem, but rather acknowledged as a longstanding feature of cultural interaction. In the context of the lower Central American countries for example, Robert
Drennan proposes to put “the diversity of the Intermediate Area to good use” (Drennan
1996:115). This is good advice when investigating the Caribbean area which is united in
unforeseen ways. We can speak of a cultural mosaic united, in spite of the fragmentary aspects, by identities formed through object and people movement rather than stasis; through
contact rather than isolation. Such a perspective of frequent and durable contact between
socio-politically comparable communities makes more sense in view of the diverse material
culture recovered in the region. Flexibility or ‘cultural pluralism’ (Rodríguez Ramos and
Pagán Jiménez 2007) is likely to have been a core trait in the region, between communities,
with long-distance traders, or when obtaining non-local objects. The ability to understand
more than one language, the willingness to interpret non-local objects in different ways,
and the freedom to translate cultural difference were probably defining characteristics in
the circum-Caribbean.
Until now, all of the proposals for pan-regional frameworks of indigenous cultural developments in the circum-Caribbean emphasize comparability. Scholars implicitly pave
the way for the presence of a certain cultural form, whether this is called the CircumCaribbean Culture Area, the Chibchan Area, Greater Antilles, or Greater Caribbean. In
doing so, these concepts conceal the cultural practices of engagement of difference and
strategic behaviour in light of others.

Culture-Historical beginnings
Julian Steward was well aware of the complex task of evidencing his ‘Circum-Caribbean
thesis’, as he informs the reader during the introduction to Volume 4 of the Handbook
of South American Indians: “[…] few of the aboriginal tribes survive today; ethnologists
have largely ignored the area. Archaeologists have done little but make surveys, except in
the West Indies” (Steward 1948:xvi). Steward is clearly troubled in his introductory text;
according to him ethnohistoric sources are poorly described, archaeological work is limited
and fragmented; ethnologists have visited only a few localities in the region. In his analysis, the contemporary indigenous cultural scene, used for historical analogies, suffers from

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similarly challenging issues: villages are small; weaving is simple, pottery plain, political
leadership absent, and social structures from the past gone with the exception of the continued presence of the shaman. In spite of viewing these cultural traits as discouraging,
Steward managed to develop his ‘Circum-Caribbean thesis’, strongly basing it on comparable socio-political organization both on the mainland and the (Greater) Antilles (Steward
1948:1-4). The proposal however did not stand the test of time. During the heyday of classificatory-descriptive archaeology, quickly questions arose about the practical implications
of such similar social and political patterns. Says William Coe suspiciously: “One can only
ponder whether or not the stimulation of actual contact is necessary to account for such
similarities” (1957:280).
The developmental trajectory proposed by Steward, which saw the emergence of chiefdom-level societies along the Caribbean Sea, was quickly overshadowed by an alternative
model proposed by Irving Rouse (1953, 1992). Rouse’s conclusion that the cultural and
linguistic origins of indigenous societies were to be found in the Amazon and Orinoco river
basins quickly became the favoured model in insular Caribbean archaeology. In Central
America, archaeologists looked for local developmental trajectories and underscored
boundaries and frontiers in analyzing the links to the neighbouring Mesoamerican and
Andean culture areas instead (Sheets 1992:36; Willey 1971:254). The idea of a ‘CircumCaribbean Culture Area’, united through its similar ecological settings, implicitly stated
by Paul Kirchhoff (Steward 1948:note 1) and developed by Julian Steward, never gained a
foothold in subsequent publications. Even though shared trait complexes were recognized
and the socio-political nature of Circum-Caribbean societies seemed comparable, the archaeology on the Caribbean islands, in Central America, and Colombia went their separate ways. Archaeologists focused on either the Greater and Lesser Antilles or the region
comprising most of the Central American countries. The end result was that ‘Caribbean
Archaeology’ or ‘The Caribbean’ and ‘Lower Central America’, ‘the Intermediate Area’ and
currently the Isthmo-Colombian Area (e.g. Hoopes and Fonseca 2003) are now referential
shorthand in the discipline.
In recent years, the pan-regional concept of the Greater Caribbean has regained some
of the interest it had lost for more than half a century. Certainly the rate and frequency at
which goods and people moved around at a pan-regional scale has been underestimated,
and an explicit focus on such social dynamics holds potential to disclose them. Hofman
and Hoogland (this volume) address this complex task by proposing a multi-scalar approach and considering regional or pan-regional solutions to local necessities. I consider it
an evocative concept since it enables research to look across regional disciplinary boundaries in exciting new ways and since it traces back pan-regional dynamics to local origins.
Resulting research can benefit by going beyond a reliance on formal and stylistic similarities observed in certain material culture categories and semiotically between some of those
categories. To argue for object circulation is one thing, to interpret what this meant socially
is another. In this chapter I suggest that circum-Caribbean interaction studies can benefit
from the current insights from social theory regarding the flexibility and flux of cultural
values of material culture. Encounters, travel, and contact are emphasized as discrete events
for acting out these interpretations and establishing ‘same’ and ‘other’ (Butler 1990; Keane
1997; Latour 1993; Munn 1986). In addition, formulations on practice theory (Bourdieu
1977; Schatski 1996) emphasize that artefacts must be used in order to be effective; and
preceding understanding is needed to use them - they must become part of local social

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practice. The practical understanding is the defining element in the links between individuals (or communities) and the object at hand. I suggest that these findings from social theory are suitable in better understanding mobility and exchange in the circum-Caribbean.
In considering that particular objects do not allow just any practical use and interpretation
– they cannot be suitable for arbitrary practices – we can analyse and compare practices and
potentially their change through time through investigations of archaeological contexts.
The relevance for invoking a pan-regional perspective is to illustrate what kind of relation mobility and exchange at this scale had with the local context at hand. Paradoxically
then, debating whether a site, region or object belonged to a macro-region is a debate which
is far removed from understanding social contexts in the pre-Colonial circum-Caribbean. I
believe that the recent focus on wider regional contexts of archaeological settings have provided a stimulating answer to the proverbial island perspectives which had become a central
tenet of archaeologies around the Caribbean Sea in the second half of the twentieth century. In contrast to these separated regional archaeologies, research into circum-Caribbean
interaction promises to regroup the micro-level locus of analysis to form part of the wider
pan-regional focus. It is the relations between micro segments (e.g. domestic settlements,
ceremonial sites, river valley settlement systems) of these macro regions which can best
serve to illustrate the use of non-local objects.

A view from the Central American mainland
When viewing for example lower Central America (e.g. Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua
and parts of Honduras) the regional perspectives in looking at the archaeology of this region is enlightening. In recent years, the unifying rationale argued for defining for example
the Isthmo-Colombian area, which builds a link between long-lasting diachronic symbolic
principles and synchronic social relations in potentially useful ways for circum-Caribbean
investigations.
Zooming in on the regional level of southern Central America it becomes clear that researching a contextualized model of pan-Caribbean interaction is considerably restricted by
the neglect in research projects that the Caribbean watershed has suffered when compared
to the Pacific side (Lange 1996). The reasons for this neglect relate to poor infrastructure
and climatic conditions that do not favour archaeological research, in particular when
compared to the significantly drier and more accessible Pacific, featuring the Pan-American
Highway and all of the major modern cities dating to early colonial times. In many parts of
Central America the Caribbean – referred to as El Atlántico – is poorly accessible by means
of motorized transport; dense tropical forests cut by major rivers have impeded research
during much of the twentieth century. Heavy rainfall, occurring throughout most of the
year, makes traversing this part of the Caribbean littoral a decidedly complicated affair. The
presumed scarcity of archaeological sites on the Caribbean side of the isthmus though, is
not merely caused by a data imbalance. In central Panama, the most extensively researched
region in this regard, habitation on the Pacific side has consistently been shown to have
started earlier and was more intensive than on the Caribbean coast (e.g. Cook and Ranere
1992; Drolet 1980). Thus the paucity of settlements cannot be explained by data imbalance alone, it does seem to have been the less densely populated side of Central America.
This data imbalance has impeded investigating the proposed model of pan-regional
mobility and exchange in the Caribbean, but in recent years a handful of archaeological
survey projects (Griggs 2005; Geurds 2009) and excavations (Gassiot and Ballbé 2004;

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Wake et al. 2004) have started work on the Caribbean littoral or in the riverine coastal hinterlands, building on pioneering research projects (e.g. Drolet 1980; Magnus 1974). Early
research hypothesized comparable patterns in material culture stretching along the Central
American Caribbean coast (Epstein 1957; Stone 1941; Strong 1948); yet more recent studies that take regional questions into consideration were unsuccessful in confirming this
idea by more local testing. Instead, archaeological and linguistic data point toward a social
and economic integration with the more inland regions (Constenla 1991; Magnus 1974;
Snarskis and Ibarra 1985) rather than a form of coastal Caribbean archetype. Overall, the
evidence points to contact and exchange from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific side, as
is argued in the example of central Panama (Linares and Ranere 1980; Chavez et al. 1996;
Cooke 2005).

Evidence for circum-Caribbean interaction
“The Mesoamerican ball game seems to have leapt the Yucatan Channel in the Classic [Period] and
quickly spread eastward from island to island” (Canter 2006: 2).

A focus on the formal similarities of architectural features between Middle America and
the Greater Antilles forms the basis for recent suggestions of contact across the Caribbean
Sea (Canter 2006; Wilson 2007). The ceremonial site of Rivas, documented in Costa Rica
(Quilter 2004), is contrasted to ceremonial sites on Puerto Rico (i.e. Caguana and Tibes)
and a number of similarities are observed in the intra-site layout of the sites and materials used in the construction of the ceremonial areas. In a similar vein, the cultural practice of ritual ball games is argued to have diffused from the Yucatán peninsula to the
Greater Antilles (Canter 2006). Wilson concludes his comparisons by stating that interaction across the Caribbean Sea is “a question that deserves to be taken seriously, even with
the difficulties in making sense of the archaeological evidence for long distance contact”
(Wilson 2007:384).
Where Steward’s description of ‘Circum-Caribbean tribes’ was mainly defined by
means of similar ecological habitats and socio-political character, the present push for a
wider Caribbean interaction perspective is more particular in its approach in focusing on
culture contact rather than culture comparability. The ‘Circum-Caribbean Culture Area’
was a classic example at an attempt to identify a culture – in this case determined by its
environment – and portraying the people pertaining to this culture as behaving along the
patterns prescribed by it (e.g. chiefly authority). The problem of essentialism looms large
in this approach. Scholars behind the recent renewed interest in a pan-regional perspective
for the Caribbean Sea are aware of these essentialist notions and instead stress the mobility
of cultural formations across geographical and perhaps political boundaries (sensu Clifford
1997). The Caribbean Sea forms such a boundary and, increasingly, links spanning this
body of water are hypothesized.
A full survey of all hypothesized links across the Caribbean Sea is beyond the scope of
this chapter, but they can roughly be subdivided into three strands: (1) contact hypothesized on geographical grounds, for example favourable maritime currents; (2) contact hypothesized on ground of comparative similarity, for example three-pointers encountered in
both the Antilles and the South American mainland; and (3) chemical provenience studies,
for example on greenstone objects.

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The geographical reasoning is based on a number of publications dealing with the maritime currents and viewshed analyses in the Caribbean Sea (Callaghan 1993, 2001; Torres
and Rodríguez Ramos 2008). It argues in favour of a crossing by means of canoes between
the Guajira peninsula on the eastern coast of Colombia and the southern coast of Puerto
Rico, in addition to other maritime ‘shortcuts’ along the coast of the Central and South
American mainland as well as between Costa Rica and Colombia (Callaghan and Bray
2007). These maritime current studies, involving evaluations of travel duration, time during the year, vessel types used, propulsion, and likely direction have their background in
comparisons made to indigenous seafaring in Oceania (see Thomas 2001 for a recent overview). For pan-regional Caribbean inquiries they are an often quoted source and represent
the only line of reasoning that looks at the potential location of communication routes in
combination with patterns in the archaeological record rather than comparing those patterns. In the latter studies, to which we will now turn, the patterns are used to identify
endpoints of interaction routes.
Hypotheses based on comparative resemblance in material culture, both from the mainland and the Antilles, are the most commonly encountered type of hypothesis and have the
longest history. An early example was based on the qualities of brilliance encountered on
polished wooded artefacts in both the Antilles and Central America (Helms 1987). This
research was subsequently expanded upon in a thesis on the importance of brilliance as an
aspect of objects materiality (Saunders 1999, see also Keehnen, this volume).
Using a diachronic perspective with examples from Mesoamerica, Lower Central
America, Amazonia and the Andean culture area, the central argument in Nicholas Saunders’
discussion on the sacrality of object brilliance is that indigenous peoples appeared to share
a common disposition toward shiny things. Saunders locates this disposition (or ‘indigenous philosophy’) in a primordial timeless past. The importance of shininess of objects is
induced from their frequency in the archaeological record (often in fact unprovenienced
objects in museum collections) and references from ethnographic contexts. The conclusion
is that these objects were valued through age-old notions passed on through time in a universe conceived and governed by continuity of symbolic meaning (Saunders 1999).
Much in the same way, the stylistic resemblance of particular objects is by far most frequently utilized to hypothesize ties across the Caribbean Sea. Looking principally at stylistic and semiotic data, these resemblances are taken as indications of contact and coherence
in a geographically and linguistically diverse area. Comparisons of macro-blade technology
for the time-period of earliest occupation between the Greater Antilles and lithic data from
Belize are presumed to suggest some form of contact given the perceived likeness of the
Belizean materials and the lithics from the Greater Antilles (Wilson et al. 1998, but see
Callaghan 2003).
The perspective of comparison has a longer history than the recent surge in publications. An early example is the reference to a single three-pointer stone discovered in
the Santa Marta region of north-eastern coastal Colombia. Marcio Veloz Maggiolo and
Bernardo Vega drew on this Malaboide series three-pointer to suggest a relation between
the tradition of three-pointers from the Greater and Lesser Antilles (Veloz Maggiolo and
Vega 1982). It is noteworthy that the views of researchers are almost exclusively from the
Greater Antilles toward particular areas of Central America or Caribbean South America
with objects flowing from the latter regions to the islands and hardly vice versa. Also, the
comparisons are usually made solely for one object category at a time.

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Finally, the exchange of greenstone between Central America and the Antilles has been
approached along similar lines of reasoning. Greenstone, a vernacular concept for a complex of lustrous minerals and rocks, is ubiquitous in Central America and has a long history
of stylistic as well as geomorphological and chemical analysis (for an overview see Lange
1993). Jadeitite, with its limited amount of potential points of departure in regional exchange networks, is invoked as a form of material desired throughout the circum-Caribbean
(Petit 2006). Rodríguez Ramos has argued that lustrous stones that visually resembled jadeitite were used interchangeably and valued for similar purposes. Drawing on a distinction proposed by Lange (1993), Rodríguez Ramos distinguishes between ‘true jades’ (being
jadeitite and nephrite) and ‘social jade’ being an array of other greenstones (Rodríguez
Ramos 2007a) and considers that the latter is fundamental in analyzing potential exchange
networks in the wider Greater Caribbean, a term proposed by Rodríguez Ramos.
The proposition to incorporate the ‘social jade’ concept has opened new avenues of
analysis for pan-regional analyses. However, the concept in my view also raises an ontological problem. In essence, this concept presupposes a lack of emic distinctions between
lustrous stones dating back to the pre-Colonial time under investigation. In other words,
it is assumed that indigenous societies surrounding and navigating the Caribbean Sea,
perceived no fundamental distinction between the greenstones grouped under those of the
social jades. This then naturally facilitates the – etic – recognition of some form of Greater
Caribbean common experience, which is begging the initial question under consideration.
It seems that, in order to come to a more contextualized understanding of jades, social or
not, more localized contextual studies are called for which provide insights into the practical situations in which particular qualities of these stone objects were valorized and how
some of those qualities diachronically shifted in importance.
Keane (2003) refers to this aspect of object materiality as the ‘condition of possibility’
and it is closely related to Kopytoff (1986) and Appadurai’s (1986) biography of things.
The utility and value of objects in different settings and time periods tends to shift. Objects
exchanged throughout the Greater Caribbean are ‘flexible’, analogical to the regional flexibility mentioned by Drennan, and should not be viewed as hostile to local systems of
knowledge in the Durkheimian sense. Newly arrived ‘strange’ objects then, synthesize cultural elements at their place of arrival, reminiscent of the bricolage mechanism proposed
by Claude Lévi-Straus ([1949] 1969). However, I consider the exchanged material things
neither only as containers of meaning, nor as its ultimate determinants. They can be a conduit of meaning, but may be just as powerful in enabling new ones.

Discussion
It seems reasonable to assume that contact occurred across the Caribbean Sea at some
stage during the two millennia of habitation along its littoral. Even if only by chance, it
is likely rather than unlikely that at some stage people from different extremes or regions
established contact with each other, initiating a motion of objects. The matter at hand
then becomes how to go about this likelihood; can we attest this contact archaeologically
and avoid the pitfall of only arguing it through object resemblance? The answer cannot be
not to compare, for archaeological investigations are in essence always comparative. The
question then is how similar two objects must be, to be considered the ‘same’, in the sense
of being related either through contact or influence (Geurds and Van Broekhoven 2010).

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The thesis of a primordial cultural scheme as bearing responsibility for these resemblances
undermines the function of ‘similarity = contact’ (see McGinnis 1996 for a discussion of
primordialism as examined for circum-Caribbean material culture).
The reasoning entailed in many of the comparative investigations of circum-Caribbean
mobility and exchange is suggestive of some form of interaction. However, in all cases, except for the arguments based on provenance studies of artefacts, they are not based on samples of a particular data-set; they are a form of probable argument, perhaps a conjecture.
In essence, the growing list of publications arguing pan-Caribbean interaction is predominantly built around comparisons of resemblance. This resemblance is deemed sufficient
to warrant these conjectures. This is abduction, in Peircian terms. By themselves, abductions cannot warrant any particular conclusion, they need to be accompanied by follow-up
research taking a regional and site level perspective (see Boomert, this volume; Hofman
and Hoogland, this volume; Knippenberg, this volume; Mans, this volume). If surprising
resemblances between objects across the Caribbean Sea are observed in pre-Colonial material cultures, and if we assume that these resemblances coincided with the existence of a
Greater Caribbean interaction sphere (sensu Rodríguez Ramos 2007a), or a primordially
shared Caribbean worldview (sensu McGinnis 1996) and so forth, such resemblances are
rendered obvious, and we can assume that the Greater Caribbean thesis is true. Whilst archaeological reasoning holds abduction as part of its essence of reasoning about the past,
not furthering initial probable arguments by means of local scale case studies will have the
Greater Caribbean thesis fall short of being convincing.
The problem with cultural primordialism is exemplified by the explanation offered by
Saunders concerning the comparability of objects through space and time. This is attractive
since we do see these similarities through form and iconicity, and we do consider that they
are somehow related. However, the explanation presented here strikes as oddly circular in
nature: Shininess was important to many indigenous peoples and communities throughout
Central America because that is the way it has always been. The question one is left with
here is how this importance came about in the first place, and how it maintained its importance. Is this shininess a deep, permanently internalized element of indigenous societies in
Central America and perhaps in the circum-Caribbean? What to do with the relevance of
shininess in the Andean region or Mesoamerica in this regard?
As Latour mentioned, for an object to have relevance to an individual, it needs to be
handled. It is not primarily a question of interpretation by that individual (1993:Chapters
3 and 4). This handling occurs in contexts of practice, which in turn are in part accessible through archaeology. I consider that we need to first study these contexts, in order to
learn how these exchanged objects were used. Through excavations, archaeology has access
to these social practices. In these practices, material things are routinely drawn upon and
applied by different agents in different situations. The objects handled again and again
endure, thus making social reproduction beyond temporal and spatial limits possible. This
endurance can also be approached through archaeology and it is perhaps the closest to what
scholars can look for when they conceptualize mobility and exchange in the Caribbean. 

Charles Peirce introduced the concept of abduction to deal with the initial stages of the scientific
method (Eco et al. 1984). Abductions can only be proven meaningful when they are followed by
deductive inferences and finally inductive testing of the hypotheses, in this case the thesis of the
Greater Caribbean.

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Human perception is a continuous process of creating categories of ‘others’. All that is
strange and unknown is inherently different from all existing frames of perceptual reference,
thus becoming alien, rare, exotic, and perhaps desirable and prestigious. This is essentially
Mary Helms’ thesis (1979), and the relation she draws between converting such ‘esoteric
knowledge’ into political potential is often cited in pan-regional Caribbean arguments.
The objects mentioned in arguments in favour of circum-Caribbean interaction (i.e.
ball courts, jade celts, copper/gold alloy figurines, stone three-pointers and others) are
more than conveyors of cultural ‘representations’ of exotic foreignness (sensu Helms 1979):
they are used and have effects through their materiality. Future research into the pan-regional interaction in the Caribbean would benefit from seeking out objects holding a highly specific materiality (see for example Mol, this volume), for example a particular form
of tool for a particular technology - one which cannot simply be replaced by some other
arbitrary ‘symbolic object’ to which the same ‘meaning’ is ascribed. I consider comparing
contexts of usage of resembling objects throughout the circum-Caribbean to lead to more
inductive reasoning than merely individual (decontextualized) objects.

Conclusion
The archaeologies of respectively Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Greater
and Lesser Antilles only infrequently exchange data. Other than a handful of scholars who
have had the opportunity to address interregional topics between for example the archaeology of Colombia and Costa Rica, archaeologies are ‘nationalist’ and distinctively local in
focus. There is no professional conference for an ‘archaeology of the Caribbean Sea’, nor
is there a peer-reviewed journal explicitly offering a forum for investigations into Greater
Caribbean topics. To a large degree, a comparable situation exists in Central American archaeology. Despite an archaeological history that is largely fragmented, the lower Central
American region and Colombia were recently associated in the definition of a Chibchan
area (Hoopes and Fonseca 2003). This constituted a major conceptual shift in comparison
to past projects and studies. Until now, the difficulties of evaluating contextual data were
primarily caused by a lack of communication between archaeologists working in Central
America and those working in the Antilles. Notes Antonio Curet: “Without a general
frame of reference about [Lower Central America] it is difficult to recognize possible evidence of interaction” (Curet 2004:95, my translation). This current lack of interaction
between scholars working in either area is indeed a major impediment toward a critical
evaluation of evidence for interaction during the pre-Colonial era.
Debates on the existence of a pre-Colonial network of interaction spanning the
Caribbean fall into two opposing perspectives: many scholars have no regard for its potential existence, while some visualize a Caribbean Sea dotted with trading canoes hitchhiking
on the currents. This paper did not seek to either validate or discredit a Greater Caribbean
notion. Nonetheless, a subtle reflection on the relationships that would constitute panregional networks in the Caribbean seems in order. The supposed movement of material
culture at a significant scale does not show up with convincing frequency in the Caribbean 


The annual conference of the International Association for Caribbean Archaeology occasionally features speakers from the Caribbean coast of Central America. Still, it is essentially a venue for papers on insular Caribbean
archaeology and studies on the South American tropical lowlands.
Original quote in Spanish: “Sin un marco general sobre la [sic] otra área es difícil reconocer posibles evidencias
de interacción”.

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archaeological record, complicating definitions of contact. It might be more beneficial to
take pre-Colonial regional and local human geographies around the Caribbean Sea into
consideration, and consider them to be made up of societies united in their inclination and
technological expertise toward navigating rivers and crossing different contexts by seafaring
(sensu Boomert and Bright 2007). As mentioned, these societies will have been inclined to
explore new horizons on the Caribbean Sea or along its coastline, and this predisposition
necessitates the multi-scalar approach proposed here (Hofman and Hoogland, this volume). On the question how this occurred, sea current studies can provide suggestions, but
the fundamental understanding is to be found in the social dynamics entailed in the arrival
of a canoe bringing objects to new shorelines. Are these objects restricted to serving as carriers of an exotic symbolism, having arrived from beyond meaningful horizons, or do they
add to the establishment of a transcontextual social order, for example through gift-giving?
For now the latter remains questionable (Mol, this volume). Referring to these exchanged
objects as meaningful structures or symbols alone cannot offer a satisfactory answer to this
question. Contextualized studies of such objects do hold the potential to reveal the effect
of trans-Caribbean objects in a receiving setting. For now the majority of the referenced
artefacts do not yet qualify for this requirement, but with scholars increasingly beginning
to collaborate and tying different scales of research together around the Caribbean Sea the
opportunity for a better understanding lies ahead.

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank Professor Corinne Hofman for inviting me to participate in the fourth
international archaeological conference entitled ‘Leiden in the Caribbean’, and for encouraging me to contribute this volume. The argument presented here was formed through discussions with Corinne Hofman, Arie Boomert, Reniel Rodríguez, John Hoopes and Laura
Van Broekhoven, but naturally all opinions expressed are my own. I thank Angus Mol for
reviewing this chapter and offering useful comments.

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Bringing

interaction into higher spheres

Social distance in the Late Ceramic Age Greater Antilles as
seen through ethnohistorical accounts and the distribution
of social valuables

Angus A.A. Mol

This paper starts out with a brief overview of the use of “interaction theory” by Caribbean
archaeologists, which is suggested to be a connecting element in many academic works.
Following this I will present a model of Greater Antillean Late Ceramic Age social interaction based on a recombination of three theoretical models from anthropological archaeology: “interaction sphere”, “exchange sphere” and “social sphere.” Using ethnohistorical
sources and an overview of Late Ceramic Age social valuables I will illustrate how a social
interactional model contributes to our understanding of the social realities behind the distribution of material culture complexes in the Antilles.
Este artículo comienza con una breve reseña del uso de la “teoría de la interacción” por arqueólogos Caribeñistas, la cual se puede observar como elemento de conjunción entre muchos de los trabajos académicos. Siguiendo esta línea, presentaré un modelo de interacción
social durante el Período Cerámico Tardío de las Antillas Mayores, basado en la recombinación de tres modelos teóricos de la arqueología antropológica: “esfera de interacción”,
“ esfera de intercambio” y “esfera social.” Utilizando fuentes etnohistóricas y un vistazo a
los bienes de valor social durante el Período Cerámico Tardío, ilustraré la manera en que
el modelo de interacción social contribuye a nuestra comprensión de las realidades sociales
sobre las que se basa la distribución de complejos de cultura.
Cet article débute par un court panorama de l’utilisation de la « théorie de l’interaction » par
les archéologues caribéens, qui est considérée être un élément de connexion dans beaucoup
de travaux académiques. En suivant cette idée, je vais présenter un modèle d’interaction
sociale de l’Âge Céramique Récent des Grandes Antilles basé sur la recombinaison des
trois modèles théoriques de l’archéologie anthropologique : la « sphère d’interaction », la «
sphère d’échange » et la « sphère sociale ». En utilisant des sources ethnohistoriques et une
vue d’ensemble des valeurs sociales de l’Âge Céramique Récent, je vais illustrer comment le
modèle interactionnel social contribue à notre compréhension des réalités sociales derrière
la distribution des complexes de culture matérielle des Antilles.

Mol

61

Winston Churchill is attending an English upper-class party. While standing in a corner, puffing
away on his “Romeo y Jullietta” cigar, he spots a good-looking socialite in the crowd. He boldly walks
up to her, takes a 6-carat diamond ring out of his pocket and asks: “My dear lady, would you spend
the night with me in exchange for this ring?” The ladies eyes widen with surprised delight: “Oh my!
Mr. Churchill, of course I would spend the night with you!” “Well, then, would you also sleep with
me for the sum of 10 pounds?” Churchill asks cheekily. “Mr. Churchill! What kind of woman do
you take me for!” the scandalized socialite cries out. Churchill replies: “We’ve already established that,
madam; we are just establishing the depth of your commitment.” 

Introduction
Pre-Columbian Caribbean archaeology is in a state of transformation. Where this discipline once focused on studying neatly boxed archaeological cultures that followed the
clear-cut steps of the socio-political evolutionary ladder (Curet 1992; Rouse 1992; Siegel
1992), researchers are now critically reviewing such long-held beliefs. This is reflected,
for example, in the recent development of and shift in high-level theories (Keegan 2007:
Chapter 1; Keegan and Rodríguez Ramos 2004; Mol 2007; Torres 2010), methodologies
(Fitzpatrick et al. 2009; Hofman et al. 2008; Reid 2008; Torres 2005), (re)interpretations
of archaeological and ethnohistorical datasets (Hofman et al. 2007; Keegan 2007; Oliver
2009; Siegel 2010), and the geographic and cultural refocusing of research to the Caribbean
basin as a whole (Harlow et al. 2006; Hofman and Hoogland, this volume; Keegan in
press; Rodríguez Ramos 2007, 2008; Rodríguez Ramos et al. 2008). Although some of the
proposed changes will neither stand the test of time nor that of falsification, the face of
Caribbean archaeology has already changed for good.
Even with all the recent upheaval, there is a single idea to which every Caribbean archaeologist subscribes and will subscribe to in the future: the idea that culture-historical
processes of the Caribbean are best described through its interactions, both internal and
external. In that sense when Caribbean archaeologists discuss pre-Columbian culture history it reminds me of the above anecdote. Analogously to Churchill and the socialite lady,
we are already willingly or unwillingly committed to the principle — interaction as an
extensive and intensive mechanism and practice in pre-Columbian social and cultural life
(Hofman et al. 2007; Rouse 1986; Torres and Rodríguez Ramos 2008; Watters 1997) —
but we are still debating how deep our commitment to this principle should be. A debate
which centres mainly on the extent of the interactions and the areas to and from which
they flow (Hofman and Bright 2008).
Historically, inquiries into the social nature of pre-Columbian interaction have been
few, however, despite being one of the main principles of Caribbean archaeology. So, while
there are many studies that take interaction as a key element, the structuring principles
underlying the social practice of interaction remain unaddressed. Due to this lacuna it
remains largely unclear what forms interactions would have taken in terms of the social 



This old story takes Churchill as protagonist in this case, but it is attributed to various historical figures such
as Oscar Levant and Bernard Shaw — the latter is used as protagonist for the same story as recounted in one
of those famous discussions between the Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist and his Skeptical Graduate Student
(Flannery 1976:251-253).
Notable exceptions are the recent book by José Oliver (2009) and some of the work of the Latin American Social
Archaeology School. I share the former, but not the latter’s theoretical framework.

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behaviour and practice of pre-Columbian communities and individuals and what their
material reflections might be.
This is not to say that there are no works at all addressing the nature of pre-Columbian
interactions. The concept of exchange in particular has seen some theoretical elaboration.
Most notable in this regard are ideas that see the exchange of various social valuables as a
functional medium for prestige based competition in the socio-political arena (Curet 1996;
Oliver 2009). The idea of exchange as a lifeline, whereby migrants continue their interactions with their mother communities in order to ensure biological and cultural survival, is
also encountered as an interactional theory in Caribbean archaeology (Hofman et al. 2011;
Keegan 2004; Kirch 1988; Watters 1997; Watters and Rouse 1989).
These are indeed prime examples of important types of social interaction, but they only
represent a small fraction of the whole gamut of possible practices. The most complete
overview of forms of interaction to date is by Boomert (2000:Chapter 11), who devotes
a chapter to various Saladoid/Barrancoid interactions. He discusses a variety of weak and
strong interactions, i.e. peaceful exchange and exchange of violence (cf. Lévi-Strauss 1943),
that would have played an important role among the Early Ceramic Age communities of
the Windward islands and the South American mainland. Although the overview is quite
extensive, it does nothing to increase our understanding of social interaction in other
Caribbean regions and time periods.
The most prevalent theories of pre-Columbian interaction are those that explain cultural and stylistic origins and diffusion, a type of thinking which ultimately stems from the
works of early culture-historical archaeologists (Childe 1925; Montelius 1899). Recently,
Rodríguez Ramos has been working from an “interaction paradigm” (Schortman and
Urban 1998), which holds that “interactions between societies are the rule rather than the
exception, and these have a vital place in their reproduction, evolution, and/or collapse”
(Rodríguez Ramos 2007: 46). How these interactions would have been structured in social
practice remains unclear from Rodríguez Ramos’ work, however.
In that sense the work of Irving Rouse remains the best Caribbean example of an attempt at a theory of interaction (Rouse 1939, 1986, 1992), Rouse’s main drive was to
explain the origin of and change in pre-Columbian culture (Siegel 1996), so, together
with population movement and local development, interaction was the only other logical
explanation for the changes he and others witnessed in the archaeological record. Rouse
did not focus on interaction as a key concept for his investigations, relying more often on
population movements to explain diachronic and geographical shifts in style. Nevertheless,
strong ideas about the role of interaction in the pre-Columbian Caribbean are present in
his work: “Interaction is the mechanism whereby cultural norms diffuse internally among
the members of a local population […] and the means of external diffusion from the members of one local population or people to another” (Rouse 1986: 11). 



Whenever authors discuss exchange, they are clearly talking about intentional exchange. So, since no intentional exchange takes places without interaction, this term is used here as nearly homologous or as a sub-variant
of interaction.
Although it has been predominantly used for the Early Saladoid, the lifeline theory could to my mind also be
applied to other situations — e.g. the Late Ceramic Age spread of Chican Ostionoid (Hoogland and Hofman
1999).

Mol

63

At first glance a Rouseian version of interaction seems rather outdated, being solely
concerned with mechanisms that explain the sharing of so-called “cultural” stylistic traits
in the archaeological record. Nonetheless, there are implications in using this theory and
possible updates and revisions which make this theory’s principles a bit less monothetic.

Three spheres in interaction theory
Rouse and others were inspired by the concept of “the interaction sphere” issuing from
work done on Hopewellian cultures in the early 1960s (Boomert 2000; Haviser 1991;
Rouse 1986). Caldwell proposed to interpret the so-called Hopewellian phenomenon - a
pattern of shared material culture traits in a large area of Eastern North America, consisting
of various distinct environmental zones and cultural traditions, during the 200 BC to AD
400 Middle Woodland period (Dancey 2005) - as the effect of different regional traditions
that were linked through a religious interaction sphere (Caldwell 1964).
Although there is a slight variation in meaning and use (Altschul 1978; Binford 1965;
Caldwell 1964; Fitzpatrick 2008; Garcea and Hildebrand 2009; Glatz 2009; Haviser 1991;
Hayden and Schulting 1997; Schortman 1989; Struever and Houart 1972), an interaction
sphere may be broadly defined as “information and exchange networks through which
status-specific artefacts as well as stylistic concepts and other norms circulate” (Boomert
2000:1). Still, there exist some principles of the initial theory that have not always been
taken up by subsequent works. For example, Caldwell states that i�������������������������
t is to be expected that
spheres with a high degree of interaction display a greater similarity in socio-cultural patterns than areas with a low degree of interaction. In addition, it is to be expected that
spheres with a high degree of interaction display a higher rate of innovation than areas
with a low degree of interaction, which essentially entails that interaction leads to cultural
homogeneity and innovation (Caldwell 1964).
Although they appear to be commonsense, these are important subsidiary theories of
the interaction sphere theory and should be partially adopted when making use of it. Still,
there is some criticism to be given to both of them. Regarding the “interaction entails innovation” theory it is important to note that innovation may also spring forth from various
other factors, such as societal stress, affluence, exceptional qualities of individual agents
and simple happenstance. In addition, it is often a matter of controversy whether innovations spring forth from interactions or could have been invented locally, such as in the case
of the so-called “Pre-Arawak pottery horizon” in the Greater Antilles (Rodríguez Ramos
et al. 2008). In sum, one could best say that “interaction assists innovation” instead of enforcing it. With respect to the idea that a high degree of interaction forces a high degree
of similarity in material culture, it has to be noted that there is no one-to-one correlation
between the quantity of shared material culture and the intensity of interaction. However
(pace Rodríguez Ramos 2007:46), I would say that the amount and the quality of materials
at an archaeological site is, at the least, indicative of the type and magnitude of the interactions in which this site participated.
The most important subsidiary principle is that an interaction sphere is always focused around a particular kind of interaction. Caldwell, for instance, proposed that shared
religious ideology was at the centre of the Hopewellian interaction sphere (Caldwell
1964). The idea that shared elements of material culture between the Greater Antilles and
Northern Lesser Antilles are caused by esoteric interaction, rather than intensive exchanges
of raw materials or social valuables, is another proposal for such a religious interaction

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communities in contact

sphere (Allaire 1990). There are other Caribbean examples to be given. The distribution of
Chican pottery from Punta Macao in the Eastern Dominican Republic is a case in point
of a localized interaction sphere based on the exchange of ceramics from one site (Conrad
et al. 2008; Samson 2010:94; van As et al. 2008). Whereas geographically extensive lithic
exchange may have been the motor behind the proposed Northern Lesser Antillean interaction sphere (Crock 2000; Haviser 1991; Knippenberg 2006). As proposed by Rodríguez
Ramos, a pan-Caribbean interaction sphere might be founded on the basis of a Caribbeanwide interest in the exchange of so-called “social jades” (Rodríguez Ramos 2010).
From this follows that the artefacts at the heart of an interaction sphere would have
a larger and more consistent range of distribution than those that are not. The fact that
specific artefacts came to be at the heart of a particular system is an outcome of universal
social tendencies made more specific by local historical processes of supply and demand.
However, the resulting position of the artefact in the exchange system would have been
reasoned out in terms of socio-cultural notions of value by the persons partaking in that
particular exchange system (cf. Graeber 2001).
One of these reasons could be that these social valuables were part of a separate “sphere
of exchange.” This classical anthropological idea holds that there are systems of exchange
in which objects are assigned to different transactional categories of value that have no
restriction on exchanges within their proper category, but that result in an incompatibility of value conversion between categories (Sillitoe 2006). In the exchange system of the
Nigerian Tiv, for instance, foodstuffs and every-day utensils can be freely exchanged against
one another, while there is an autonomous sphere of exchange that consists of brass rods,
cattle, slaves, white cloth and magical items, and another sphere consisting of “dependent
persons”, e.g. women and children (Bohannan 1955).
Exchange spheres gained universal appeal when they were discussed in the context of
modern commoditization (Kopytoff 1986), but the main ethnographic examples of autonomous spheres of exchange come from the Pacific and Africa, with very few clear-cut
cases outside these regions (Sillitoe 2006). It should also be recognized that exchange
never takes place in a vacuum, but carries other material and immaterial culture with it
(Malinowski 1922:92), which would make it hard to disentangle spheres of exchange in
a pre-Columbian palimpsest of exchange practices (cf. Struever and Houart 1972). Yet, I
think that the existence of exchange spheres should be regarded as a real possibility in the
Caribbean, albeit not in such a strict sense as some ethnographic case-studies suggest. In
the case of Late Ceramic Age shell guaízas it was shown, for example, that these social valuables were part of an exchange sphere that consists of a class of objects that were specifically
meant to be exchanged with extra-communal others (Mol 2007).
The existence of prehistoric spheres of exchange, even though it is quite likely, is only
one route to explain the existence of pre-Columbian interaction spheres. It is also true that
the socio-cultural dynamics that create and maintain interaction spheres are poorly understood by archaeologists (Hayden and Schulting 1997). Therefore, a third sphere needs to
be added to the proposed archaeological interactional theory, namely the social sphere.
The model, based on Sahlins’ (1972) discussion of reciprocity and kinship distance,
consists of concentric rings that flare outward from the smallest social unit — this is the
residential group in Sahlins’ model — toward the exotic, i.e. the social unknown. This is 

Although a Lowland South American example exists (Dean 1994).

Mol

65

Figure 1 A modified version of Sahlin’s model of primitive exchange (Sahlins
1972:199). In this version “the exotic” has been added as the outer zone of
the social sphere.

coupled by ideas from evolutionary psychology that show that individual agents and institutions use different social strategies to organize their ever expanding social circles. For
the two smallest social units the most important strategy is generalized reciprocity and
strong reciprocity (Fehr and Fischbacher 2003; Hamilton 1964a,b; Mol 2010). In the
sphere beyond that, the one of the village, the prevalent social strategy would consist of a
mix of indirect reciprocity, reciprocal altruism and group altruism (Richerson and Boyd
2004; Trivers 1971). In the so-called tribal sphere social strategies would mostly consist of
direct reciprocity (Richerson and Boyd 2004; Chapman 1980; Mauss 1990). In intertribal
relations negative reciprocity is the guiding principle of interaction, which might consist
of actual physical violence, but antagonistic types of interaction, such as giving in order to
humiliate or exacting tribute through threat of force, are other examples of negative reciprocity (Bourdieu 1977:192; Bowles 2009; Sahlins 1972:195-196). Paradoxically, encounters that take place in the last ring, labelled “exotic”, are neither social nor antisocial, but
rather marked by a distinct absence of sociality.

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The three theories of interaction encountered here are mutually supportive, addressing
different aspects of an archaeological interactional theory. Interaction takes place in regional spheres that consist of social individuals and institutions that are connected through
their goods and information exchange networks. Multiple interaction spheres might exist
in the same region, because the exchanged material and immaterial culture might belong
to specific transactional categories, i.e. spheres of exchange. These interaction spheres and
spheres of exchange are characterized by their social strategies, from free-spirited altruism
to all-out conflict. Conversely, the transactional categories of material and immaterial culture and the range and quantity of interaction — exchange and interaction spheres —have
a structuring influence on the social strategies used in the interaction. In practice the combined theories offer a way of thinking that takes account of interaction range and intensity,
type of exchange valuables and social mechanisms in order to address pre-Columbian interaction in the Caribbean basin. To show how these theories might be used in concert two
routes of approach will be taken. The first will be an analysis of Greater Antillean protohistoric interactions using ethnohistorical documents. The second will be a brief overview
of style, form, and function of Late Ceramic Age (AD 800-1492) social valuables.

Exploring interaction in the proto-Contact period
The very first years of contact are interesting in their own right, but are even more important for archaeologists who attempt to tease out information on pre-Columbian Antillean
society before the ������������������������������������������������������������������������
irreversible destruction of indigenous lifeways in the early Contact period.��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
It is well-known that the study of early sources that describe the Castilian explorations in the Antilles is not unproblematic. Therefore, when ethnohistory is used it should
be done sparingly and critically and in order to test new theoretical models or hypotheses
that are constructed to solve an archaeological problem — in this case how were interaction
spheres oriented and what were the prevailing social strategies and materials used in these 

First of all there is the issue that ethnohistoric documents are of a singular nature and have often been copied
down from originals, so that details might be false without the possibility to verify this in other corroborative
sources. Also, simply transcribing the well-known primary sources and using the information in them for the
interpretation of Caribbean material culture, is often not that interesting, seeing that this has already been
done extensively (Fewkes 1907; Fewkes 1922; Lovén 1935 ; Rouse 1948a,b). Thirdly, it has to be accepted
that ethnohistory often has a way of dominating archaeological accounts of the past, which can lead to a
disproportionate reliance upon subjective documents to elucidate historical “truth” (Machlachlan and Keegan
1990). This is perhaps why, during the Leiden in the Caribbean Symposium where this paper was presented,
it was pointed out to me that the main sources I use in my analysis are seen as highly problematical from a
historical perspective, because the information cannot be confirmed using other sources. I believe that these
sources should be used sparingly and should not be relied upon for detailed descriptions of the indigenous way
of life. This problem especially affects the first part of my analysis that tries to explain indigenous behaviour and
rationalizations as described by Europeans in subjective sources, which makes it, I agree, somewhat tentative.
The second part of my analysis relies on indices that are either present in the text or are not. I reject the opinion
of those critics that say the sources should not be used at all. Such a destructive critique is fine for those who
are only interested in the history of the documentation of European and indigenous contact, but not for those
who wish to explore hypotheses that attempt to explain the human past.

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spheres (cf. Mol 2008)? When taking these precautions ethnohistorical accounts, such as
the following taken from the first days of contact — from the Diary of Columbus as transcribed by Las Casas — can be quite instructive (Navarete 1922: 33):
“���������
Lunes 15 ���������������
de Octubre […]
Y estando á medio golfo destas dos islas, es de saber de aquella de Santa Maráa y de esta grande, á
la cual pongo nombre la Fernandina, fallé un hombre solo en una almadia que sepasaba de la isla
de Santa María á la Fernandina, y traia un poco de su pan, que seria tanto como el puño, y una
calabaza de agua, y un pedazo de tierra bermeja hecha en polvo y despues amasada, y unas hojas secas
que debe ser cosa muy apreciada entre ellos, porque ya me trujeron en San Salvador dellas en presente,
y traia un cestillo á su guisa, en que tenia un ramalejo de cuentecillas de vidrio y dos blancas, por las
cuales conoscí quel venia de la isla de San Salvador, y habia pasado á aquella de Santa María, y se
pasaba a la Fernandina.”

This particular excerpt is brimming with information about the nature of interaction
two days after the first contact between indigenous Bahamians and Castilians. There is information about the type of travel rations and other tools for travel, the speed and itinerary
of interisland travel, coveted exchange valuables, and the reason for travel: to spread the
news of Columbus’s arrival. In addition, it shows that there must have been an interaction
sphere that consisted of at least Rum Cay, Long Island and San Salvador. Also, the man
was carrying objects that were highly valued among all the islanders, but was unarmed and
travelling alone. So, he seems to not have been in any direct danger, but was equipped as
was socially acceptable to his neighbouring communities, i.e. possibly beautified by using
the powder for body decoration and bearing tobacco as a small gift. Therefore it is quite
reasonable to assume that the particular social circle in which he was moving was located
somewhere on the midpoint of the social sphere model, i.e. the level Sahlins calls “tribal”
(Sahlins 1972:194-195).
The description of the interactions between Columbus and indigenous Bahamians in
the diary can also be used to further explore proto-Contact Bahamian interaction and social spheres. Particularly, the information that Columbus gives about the behaviour of his
indigenous Bahamian guides is enlightening in this regard. Columbus’s initial idea was to
carry seven indigenous Bahamian men across the ocean and have them displayed at the
court in Seville, but he soon came to rely on them for communication with other indige- 

All translations are adapted from Beckwith and Farina’s translation (Beckwith and Farina 1990), but another
translation has been substituted by me at times that I feel their translation is not in line with the source text
(Navarete 1922):
“Monday, October 15 

While I was between these two islands, i.e. Santa María [Rum Cay] and this large one which I named Fernandina
[Long Island], I met a man alone in a pirogue [canoe] going from the island of Santa María to Fernandina. He
had with him a small loaf, the size of his fist, a gourd of water, some red earth ground into powder and made
into paste, and some dried leaves, which these people must greatly prize, for they presented me some of it on
San Salvador. He had also a basket made in their native fashion in which he had a small string of glass beads and
two blancas [Spanish coins]. From these things I knew that he had come from the island of San Salvador, had
touched Santa María, and was now going to Fernandina.”
Keegan (1992:Chapter 8) has a nice discussion on Columbus’s route and proto-contact Bahamian sites in the
region.

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communities in contact

Figure 2 A suggested model of the social sphere of the Bahamian guides.
Regions and distances between them are not in scale. Only locations have
been displayed for which information is available.

nous groups and for geographic and cultural information. As a grim spectre of the violence
that would follow, the seven guides did not join out of their own volition, but were in fact
abducted from the island of San Salvador on the 14th October of 1492.10 At first the men
tried to escape, which one of them managed successfully with the aid of another man in a
canoe the following night. One other managed to escape in a similar fashion the following
day, when Columbus was anchored off the coast of Rum Cay (Navarete 1922:October 15).
Following attempts were thwarted and once Columbus’s ships left the Bahamian archipel

It has always been a mystery how Columbus and the other Iberians communicated with the indigenous people
of the Caribbean during initial contact. It should however not be forgotten that Columbus and many others
were travelled men who had been working their way through intercultural situations in which non-verbal communication was a necessity. The same might be said of the indigenous people of the Caribbean, who might have
partaken in interaction spheres that were not hindered by language barriers.
10 “Domingo 14 de Octubre
[… E]sta gente es muy simplice en armas, como verán vuestras Altezas de siete que yo hice tomar para llevar y
deprender nuestra fabla y volvellos” (Navarete 1922:29).
“Sunday October 14
This people’s use of arms is the simplest, as your Highnesses [Isabella I and Ferdinand II] will see from the seven
that I took to be brought [to the court], taught our language, and returned home.”

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69

ago the remaining men did not get another chance to escape. It seemed that this was not
because they were resolved in their fate and were any less homesick than before, but rather
because they feared the inhabitants of the other regions Columbus visited.
It is this kind of information that allows a reconstruction of a combined social and interaction sphere for the pre-Columbian inhabitants of San Salvador. The rescue attempt
- undertaken immediately and at considerable risk to the rescuers - for example, is an argument for the idea that there were close interactions and social ties between the inhabitants of San Salvador and Rum Cay. It is the type of semi-altruistic action that could be
explained as based on established patterns of generalized or strong reciprocity. In addition,
the willingness to undertake a rescue attempt is not seen to be present among other people
of the Bahamian islands visited by Columbus, indicating that the San Salvadorians simply
did not share such a strong social bond with them.
Nonetheless, the kidnapped guides seem to have been reasonably familiar with the
names, geography and socio-political situation of other islands such as Crooked Island and
Fortune Island (Navarete 1922:19 and 21 October). When also considering the excerpt of
the lone man travelling in his canoe who brings the news of Columbus’s arrival, this leads
to an argument that this region was characterized by an interaction sphere in which strategies from the intermediate level of the social sphere — indirect reciprocity and reciprocal
altruism based on a loose sense of group unity — would have dominated.
Beyond the Bahamian archipelago the guides seem to have less and less grip on local
affairs. They seem to have some knowledge of travel routes to the Gibara region and surrounding regions in the north of Cuba and appear to be quite willing to communicate
with the people there (Navarete 1922: 26, 29, 30 and 31 October). This seems to indicate
that there was at least a bond of social communality between them, perhaps because they
had had some past dealings or had gained some information through exchange partners.
When Columbus sails beyond the part of Cuba that is closest to the Bahamians’ island
of origin, they become more and more fearful of the local inhabitants (Navarete 1922:1
December). The transcription of Columbus’s diary suggests on various occasions that the
Bahamian guides seemed to be extremely afraid of progressing east towards Hispaniola
and surrounding islands. They warn of the violent Canima people that live in a region or
island called Bohío who are one-eyed monsters with dog snouts (e.g. Navarete 1922:26
November).11 This suggests that interactions between the place of origin of the Bahamian
guides and these regions were of a progressively anti-social nature. It seems that knowledge
through experience or hear-say is substituted by superstition and a mythic geography. All
the combined excerpts on the Bahamian guides leads to a tentative reconstruction of their
combined social and interaction sphere (Figure 2).
This should not be understood as a social interaction variant of optimal foraging theory. First of all, the focus of interactions and social attitudes would have shifted continuously in the pre-Columbian Caribbean depending on local “geo”-political processes and
individual attitudes. In addition, the data is not of such a nature that it can be fully relied
11 This reference to Canima people is actually the first reference to an idea that was later conflated with others into
the infamous term “cannibal” (Keegan 2007: 36). In fact the indigenous Cubans from the Río de Mares region
also warned Columbus of men living to the east that had only a single eye and others with dog muzzles who ate
men that they capture, and subsequently decapitate, drink their blood, and cut off their genitals. Fortunately,
while absence of evidence is not always evidence for absence, the available evidence seems to dismiss the existence of these creatures to the realm of fantasy.

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communities in contact

upon for such detailed interpretations. The excerpts from the hand of Las Casas — who
brought his own subjective agenda to his transcription — represent statements and behaviours of only five individuals, who had good reason not to act truthfully. Moreover, they
were interpreted by Columbus, who although an experienced traveller cannot be called an
objective ethnographer.
Nevertheless, this model derived from ethnohistorical information seems to be backed
up by statements on geographical distances and social attitudes that can be found in other documents describing early colonial indigenous interactions. There is, for example,
the information Chanca provides about the range of the Island Carib of Dominica and
Guadeloupe— 150 leguas or 630km (390mi) —, which corresponds with the Bahamian
range of the expectation of anti-social behaviour (Chanca 1992:23).12 In addition, there are
also the statements on the alliances between caciques from Higuey and Puerto Rico in the
Mona Passage area, a sphere that spans roughly 350km (220mi; Oliver 2009).13 Ultimately,
further evidence has to be provided through a discussion of the archaeological contexts of
proposed interaction spheres. There are, however, still other ways to explore interaction
using the ethnohistorical record.

Information exchange in the Greater Antilles
The diary of Columbus hides clues to another social practice that must have been highly
important in pre-Columbian interaction networks: the exchange of information. Sharing
information is a vital element in any human’s life and is especially important for the creation and maintenance of interaction networks (Axelrod 1997; Gilbert et al. 2009; Levinson
2006). Nevertheless, to visualize information exchange through the archaeological record is
nigh on impossible without the use of written sources.
As the above excerpt of the man in his canoe carrying the Castilian coins and beads
shows, the news of Columbus’s arrival was an important piece of information that travelled
quite quickly along existing routes of interaction. The following analyses will show that not
only the news of the arrival of Columbus, but also rumours of his behaviour towards the
indigenous people of the Caribbean travelled quite rapidly.
The diary contains information on how Columbus treated local people along his route
and focussed on behaviour that would have been unequivocally understood by the indigenous populace as either friendly, neutral or hostile actions on the part of Columbus. These
were plotted on a timeline that runs for the duration of Columbus’s stay in the Caribbean
during his first voyage. Factual information concerning the behaviour of the indigenous
people toward Columbus was collected and their disposition toward him was also plotted
on the same timeline. Their disposition could be objectively gauged when the document
mentions that they extend help, engage in what Columbus describes as trade, flee from
Columbus and abandon their villages, or threaten with or engage in hostilities. These are
quite unambiguous types of behaviour which were categorized for the sake of brevity as
friendly, interested, distrustful, or hostile, respectively.

12 This distance is also roughly similar to the distance over which the Kalinago people, who are the historic counterpart of the Island Carib, themselves expected anti-social behaviour, viz. damaging attacks of dark shamanism
sent to them by their enemies on the mainland (Mol 2009).
13 This distance is, to make an impromptu analogy with another archipelagic interaction sphere, the same as the
farthest extents of the famous Melanesian Kula ring (Malinowski 1922).

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71

Figure 3 A graph plotting Columbus’s behaviour and the attitude of the indigenous people towards him
in the months October, November, December and January of AD 1492 and 1493. There are three types
of nodes: triangle (Bahamas), circle (Cuba) and square (Hispaniola). Separate nodes in the graph cover
three days in the diary. The colour of the nodes entails either social (light grey) and antisocial (dark
grey) behaviour, or no interaction (white).

The resulting graph (Figure 3) shows an unmistakable reaction from indigenous individuals and communities to the actions of Columbus. The antisocial actions of Columbus are
particularly revealing in this regard. It should be remembered that the group of European
sailors were exotic strangers in the eyes of the original inhabitants of the Caribbean.
Interacting with them offered opportunities, but also held real dangers. Moreover, the fact
that Columbus captures 27 men, women and children and carries 23 of them away on his
ship to Spain should be understood from an indigenous perspective, in which raiding and
abduction probably belonged in the category of most hostile actions. What is visible from
the graph is that whenever Columbus abducts people, the disposition of those he subsequently encounters drops to distrustful or hostile. If he starts acting peacefully again, the
relations only slowly improve. If the Iberians keep acting sociably relations remain good
and even improve to the point that various individuals and communities actively help
Columbus. The indigenous people of the Caribbean clearly follow a social strategy that is
based on fear and loathing of the raiding strangers, but open to peaceable interaction when
Columbus seems to be acting socially.14
The interesting fact here is that Columbus did not interact with just one indigenous
counterpart. Still, indigenous individuals and communities respond to Columbus’s actions
as if they are aware of his treatment of others in more distant regions. This can only have
happened through the active distribution of information along existing sea and coastal
14 It is striking that the strategy of the indigenous people in their interactions with Columbus mirrors “the best
possible strategy” in an “Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma,” a modification of a classic game in game theory which
revolves around trust and distrust (Axelrod 1997). This strategy is based on a ‘Tit for Tat’ approach that is set
for cooperation, but punishes freeloaders, while allowing the freeloaders to better their behaviour in order to
reinitiate cooperation. This shows once again that the indigenous people of the Caribbean were quite adept at
handling intercultural social contact and were also quite intent on establishing peaceful relations with their
overseas visitors (cf. Mol 2007, 2008).

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communities in contact

routes of interaction. By tracking the actions described in the Columbus diary and comparing these with the reactions of the indigenous people along Columbus’s route it is possible
to identify the routes for different pieces of information. One such example is the information on the capture of sixteen people in the Bahía de Naranja area in Cuba. Columbus
travels eastwards after this, yet the news must have travelled faster, since Columbus does
not have any other interactions until he is near Baracoa on the 27th of November. The inhabitants of this area try to prevent Columbus from landing, which nearly results in a fight
on the 1st of December. Columbus manages to defuse this situation, though, and finally
peaceful exchange ensues.
When one finds the shortest distance of one route and divides this by the maximum
number of days it could have taken the information to travel from the starting point to the
end point of that route, it is possible to calculate the minimum speed of the spread of information per day. In this way it is possible to define minimum speed of information/day of all
the eight separate sea and coastal routes of information dispersal.15 When the speeds from
these different routes are combined, the minimum speed/day can be calculated for all these
routes together. The result is a mean and median of 15km (9.3mi) per day.16 When the proposed speed of travel by canoe in the Caribbean is taken into account, which is estimated
to be around 5,5 to 6,5 km (3.5 to 4 mi)/hour on long-distance trips with a large canoe
(Bérard et al. 2009; Billard et al. 2009). This corresponds to a group of at least 20 fit men
and/or women travelling no less than three to four hours per day by canoe in order to reach
the distance indicated by the average minimum speed of information spread per day.17
Since not just one piece of information is distributed, i.e. the landing on San Salvador,
but several distinct pieces of information, these cannot have travelled through the effort of
one single individual or group alone. So, because a Bahamas to East Hispaniola “marathon
run” can be rejected, information must have spread on a relay basis using efficient and
interconnected routes of interaction.18 This is then, a perfect example of an interregional
interaction sphere in which separate smaller spheres are interlocked for the purpose of the
15 The values for all the individual routes that could be identified are as follows: Within the Bahamas 17km
(10.5mi)/day; Bahamas to Cuba 25km (15.5mi)/day, Cuba North Coast A 15-18km (9.3-11.2mi)/day;
Cuba North Coast B 10-12km (6.2-7.5mi)/day; Cuba to Hispaniola 13-15km (8.1-9.3mi)/day; Bahamas
to Hispaniola Alternative 8-10km (5-6.2mi)/day; Hispaniola North Coast A 17-18km (10.5-11.2mi)/day;
Hispaniola North Coast B 8-10km (5-6.2mi)/day.
16 Because no information is available on pre-Columbian sea or coastal routes in this region of the Antilles the
shortest distance is taken from a contemporary map and it is suggested that the route follows the coast. In some
cases a shorter alternative has also been taken by skipping the coastal route in favour of making a passage that
would have involved a short journey on open sea. The number of days it would have taken for information to
spread is necessarily a maximum, because there is no way to tell exactly when the information has arrived at a
certain spot before Columbus arrives on the scene. This all ends up in a minimum speed of information spread,
which could have been higher in practice. Nevertheless the closely corresponding mean and median suggests
that the speed of information exchange would have been around 15km (9.3mi)/day.
17 A messenger using a canoe is the most probable means of transporting information along pre-Columbian
interaction routes. Walking would have been possible, but more time and energy consuming. The entry on 6
December of Columbus’s diary also provides a different interaction medium: signal fires, which are suggested as
a possible explanation for the large bonfires that were seen during the night (Navarete 1922:91). Although these
fires could have acted as signals to warn of Columbus’s arrival, this would not have been a suitable medium to
convey information about Columbus’s behaviour. Prior notification of this information needed to have been
transferred orally.
18 It has to be granted that the arrival of the Europeans has also been an event of epic nature in the history of the
Caribbean. The extent and the speed with which the information on Columbus and the other Iberians travelled
would probably reflect this. Nonetheless, the derived speed of interaction is not solely an artefact of the Contact
period since the interaction would have been dispersed along pre-Columbian interaction routes.

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73

distribution of a particular kind of social valuable, in this case information. It is difficult
to know exactly what the particular social strategy was behind the distribution of information in the Late Ceramic Age Caribbean. Examples from other parts of the world suggest that information — especially that of social dispositions of others — is quite freely
exchanged as part of indirect and strong reciprocal strategies (Fehr and Fischbacher 2003;
Mol 2010).

Interaction and material culture
Although ethnohistorical documents shed some light on the role of material culture in
proto-historic interaction (Mol 2007), this is not nearly enough to explain the role of material culture in pre-Columbian interactions in full. When extrapolating social interactions
from the archaeological record, however, one faces an archaeologically difficult heuristic
step: the step from the material to the social (Binford 1962).
If one looks at the material remains of pre-Columbian Caribbean cultures from a macrolevel they can give the false impression that nearly every region interacted with every other
region, since all material culture shares at least one stylistic or formal trait with another region. Conversely, when zooming in to the archaeological region or site level, it often seems

Figure 4 A social interactional model based on Late Ceramic Age social
valuables (photos taken by author).

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communities in contact

that localities were discrete cultural units that, although they would have shared some characteristics with neighbours, have a unique material culture and therefore a unique culture.
The macro-level view often focuses on iconography of ideologically charged items of material culture, where the micro-level view often hinges on ceramic style and form. Often the
first view leads to an account that stretches interaction patterns and glosses over regional
differences, while the other leads to an atomistic view of pre-Columbian socio-cultural
practice. Paradoxically, neither of these views is necessarily wrong. They simply represent
different ends of the interactional spectrum (Figure 4).
This social interactional model is a conflation of Sahlins’ (1972) social spheres and
Caldwell’s (1964) interaction spheres, but geared especially towards the social value of material culture. It particularly incorporates part of the idea of exchange spheres in that there
are certain types of artefacts whose social value is most suited to particular transactional
rings of the interaction sphere. From an initial cross-cultural review of exchange practices
it is possible to say that the type of item used in a particular social sphere seems to be underlain by universal patterning (Mol in prep.). Nevertheless, the social interaction sphere is
mostly socio-culturally constructed and contingent on environmental restraints and other
local economic processes. The structure of the hypothetical model that is offered here
should therefore be seen as having universal potential, but specifically constructed with the
Late Ceramic Age Greater Antilles in mind.
The type of social strategy used in the different rings of the model is similar to the
synthesized model that was described earlier (Figure 1), but here material culture plays
a specific role. The inner ring represents material culture that is most valued in l���������
ocalized
interactions along short social distances, i.e. the household or clan, moiety, lineage etcetera. Because of its high prevalence in day-to-day social practice this is the sort of material
culture most abundant in habitation sites, e.g. non-ceremonial ceramics, foodstuffs and
tools.
The intermediate level — representing interaction in larger villages, houses and the local region — is characterized by objects that represent corporate values (Godelier 1999).
Examples might be ceremonial objects, such as idols, paraphernalia and ceremonial ceramics, and would have a range of stylistic and formal distribution that depends on the size of
the larger communal institutions. They may also have a larger regional distribution, but
styles and forms would vary slightly to moderately over this region, which would represent
interlocked local interaction spheres.
Moving further outwards, the next rings represent interactions over extended geographic and social distances and are characterized by two different types of valuables: exchange
valuables and infrastructural valuables. Exchange valuables are objects that are highly valuable and conspicuous, but that can be alienated from their local value system. They often
fall in the category of adornments, because they have their highest value when prominently
on display. Infrastructural valuables are objects that are literally part of the infrastructure of
long-distance interactions. Their function is to mediate in the socially precarious situation
of interaction over extended social distances. Objects such as these function to delineate
the interaction by setting it apart from the everyday and provide a discrete arena in which
the interaction is enacted. Ceremonial seats are a near universal example of such objects
(Sahlins 1975). Vehicles for transportation - often augmented with specialized magic to aid
in the interaction (Malinowski 1922) - are a more literal case in point.

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75

The outermost ring represents antisocial actions that would have formed an important part of past interaction spheres, but which are notoriously difficult to reconstruct
archaeologically (but see Chacon and Mendoza 2007). The region outside of the rings is
associated with those objects that would not have been part of the social sphere, i.e. exotica
(Helms 1988). These objects could take any form as long as they have exotic geographical
and social origins. However, t�������������������������������������������������������������
he dangerous “in betweenness” of interactions with the great
social unknown leads them to be treated in a special way: either by attributing to them an
extremely high value, or very little value because of the objects’ inability to be “socialized”
into local systems of value.
Of course, objects do not solely belong to one category. Their social value is contextually dependent. The same ceramic bowl for example might be used during special occasions at family dinners, as well as for neighbourhood festivals or high status foreign guests.
However, its prevalent mode of use comes from a certain social interaction sphere. It has
to be said that this model is a working hypothesis and will be elaborated by more examples
and tested in future work. Nevertheless, some Late Ceramic Age examples will be briefly
presented here.
Seeing that it represents such a massive variability in style and form - with vast underlying differences in the chaîne opératoire and socio-cultural contexts of use - the Ostionoid
series of the Greater Antillean Late Ceramic Age represents even more of a “veneer” as an
artefact of archaeological classification then the Early Saladoid (Keegan 2004). It is commonly accepted that the Meillacan and Chican subseries should rather be seen as autonomous series - Chicoid and Meillacoid - that are loosely connected through time and space.
Furthermore, there are suggestions for a plethora of localized complexes and styles, which
are difficult to relate to the bigger picture. The Punta Rusia archaeological region in the
Puerto Plata and Monte Cristi provinces of the North Dominican Republic, provides a
good example of how larger style areas consist of more complex local interaction and social
spheres. Here sites have been found with differing, contemporaneous stylistic associations
such as the Chicoid and Meillacoid on the same habitation sites, with an additional mixed
style that draws on elements from both (Ulloa Hung, personal communication 2009).
Further analysis by Ulloa Hung is pending, but it is already possible to see that the archaeological record of the Punta Rusia region is the outcome of local identity formations in interaction and social spheres that would have been played out in chorus in a relatively small
region and could even have been mediated on the site level (cf. Dietler and Herbich 1998).
Recent research has shown that similar complex situations exist in different regions in the
Greater Antilles, such as the Chicanized Meillacoid of the Cuban province of Holguín or
the distinct Meillacoid ceramics of Jamaica (Keegan and Atkinson 2006; Valcárcel Rojas
2002).
If one turns to objects that have an interregional distribution in the Antilles, the large
three-pointed zemi is one of the most iconic examples of Late Ceramic Age material culture. This conspicuous artefact category would have represented and fortified corporate
values both within the community and in interactions with other communities and superhuman beings. The area of distribution of the “classical” three-pointed zemies, however, is
in actual fact not that large (Oliver 2009:91). It is confined to the region of the Chicoid
heartland with some less characteristic examples in other regions. Even within this heartland it is possible to identify different regional styles and forms - e.g. between Puerto Rico
and the Dominican Republic. Moreover, certain areas that are traditionally seen as part

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communities in contact

of this heartland (Rouse 1992) - e.g. north Dominican Republic - have not yielded any
large three-pointed zemies to date (Ulloa Hung 2009, personal communication). Elaborate
three-pointed zemies are examples of corporate valuables that would have been critically
important for intercommunal interactions and constitution of sociality in the regions in
which they are found (cf. Oliver 2009). They would probably not have had such connotations outside their immediate area of distribution, where other types of material culture
would have played a similar role — e.g. Jamaican collections have a plethora of pestles
and other artefacts with bird iconography, which makes them candidates for a comparable
corporate role.
True pan-Antillean categories of material culture are uncommon. The ceremonial duhoseat is one of the few examples of such a phenomenon. Although duhos definitely vary in
style over the region, due to their form and function they would have been recognized
from the Bahamas down to the Windward Islands and probably beyond (Ostapkowicz et
al., this volume). I suggest that their use-context in ritual exchanges between exchange
partners would also have been the same or nearly the same cross-regionally. Duhos would
have figured as a focus of interactions that served to stress, but simultaneously bridge large
social distances as comparable seats did among societies in the recent past of the South
American Lowlands and ceremonial seats still do in many other cultures (Koelewijn and
Rivière 1988; Sahlins 1975).
Shell faces have an almost equally large area of distribution as the duho. These objects, known as guaízas in proto-Contact Hispaniola, were highly valued as intercommunal
exchange valuables due to their ability to control and influence one’s exchange partners
(Mol 2007). It cannot be said for sure whether they had similar connotations in Lesser
Antillean exchange systems, but their raw material, mainly Lobatus gigas with some examples of Lobatus costatus, form and basic iconography is nearly the same over a large area.
This means that a Lesser Antillean shell face would have been quite recognizable among
Greater Antillean communities and vice versa. This would make them adaptable to various
spheres of exchange and interaction and have allowed them to function in similar social
strategies.

Preliminary conclusions on Late Ceramic Age social interaction
The above are clear examples of how various artefacts can be part of different social spheres
and therefore have different values in different interaction spheres. Their quantity on sites
and their absolute value, i.e. energy expended in their production, is a measure of the specific social sphere in which they are used. Their distribution and stylistic variation is also
a measure hereof, as well as an indication of the type of interaction sphere in which they
would have been used, i.e. short, intermediate and extended social distances. It has to be
said that specific cultural data greatly improves the model and that there is no one-to-one
correlation between different cultural settings, which limits the more general applicability
of the proposed model somewhat. Nevertheless, the concepts behind the model are of universal significance in the sense that there is a universal tendency to delegate certain social
strategies to certain spheres of exchange and interaction.
Both the ethnohistorical case-studies as well as the example of Late Ceramic Age material culture have shown that exploring past interaction based on a combination of interaction, exchange and social sphere theories is feasible in the Late Ceramic Age. It shows
that Caribbean localities were interconnected on different levels through interlocked in-

Mol

77

teraction spheres of various sizes and transactional categories. It also points to a situation
in which specific, universally recognizable social strategies were used to mediate various
types of interaction, such as the spread of information, the forging of local and corporate
identities and the creation of shared platforms of interaction through cross-culturally recognizable infrastructural and exchange valuables. I intend to continue these explorations in
future work to lend additional strength to the proposed arguments and the model.
Finally, on reading this piece, some will be reminded of ideas that have been present in
Caribbean archaeology for a long time. On one level I am suggesting that we can speak of
communities participating in more or less circumscribable spheres of interaction and style
areas of which their central importance to Caribbean history has been previously recognized (e.g. Rouse 1992). This is the same level on which the value of theories of interaction
that have long been present in Caribbean archaeology is acknowledged (e.g. Rouse 1986).
On another level I acknowledge the high potential of Antillean and Caribbean interconnectivity, while on yet another level it should be stressed that local patterns of interactions
and exchange are equally important to our understanding of past interaction processes and
still in need of further analysis, either stylistical or archaeometrical (cf. Hofman et al. 2007,
2008; Knippenberg 2007; Rodríguez Ramos 2007). Caribbean interactions and their concomitant social strategies and resulting material culture complexes can only be understood
as multi-scalar processes and therefore would have been a factor of importance on all levels
of the pre-Columbian Caribbean past.

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E arly phytocultural processes
pre -C olonial A ntilles

in the

A pan-Caribbean survey for an ongoing starch grain
research

Jaime R. Pagán-Jiménez

This work examines the available archaeobotanical information of the circum-Caribbean
with the aim of re-evaluating the botanical cultures of the region. My intention is to demonstrate that the period of the earliest population movements to the islands (ca. 5600 BC)
was mediated by complex interregional processes in which crop plants were important
items within exchange networks of goods and ideas. The article demonstrates that crop
plant dispersions along with other cultural practices intrinsically linked with them were a
reality since the dawn of human arrival to the islands. Details on the magnitude of these
processes are unknown and further research will deal with these issues. This work is intended to be a basic framework for the largest archaeological starch grain study which – to
date - has been formulated in the hemisphere.
Este trabajo explora información arqueobotánica del circum-Caribe con el objetivo de revalorar el ámbito de las culturas botánicas de la región. Mi interés es demostrar que el periodo de los primeros movimientos humanos hacia las islas (ca. 5600 BC) estuvo mediado
por complejos procesos interregionales y las plantas económicas formaron parte esencial de
las redes de intercambio de bienes e ideas. Enfatizamos que la dispersión de plantas y otras
prácticas intrínsecamente relacionadas con ellas fueron una realidad desde los albores del
poblamiento humano de las islas. Desconocemos la magnitud de todos los procesos señalados y deseamos detallarla en futuros trabajos. Este escrito es un marco de referencia básico
para el más abarcador estudio de almidones arqueológicos que se haya formulado - hasta
ahora - en el hemisferio.
Ce travail examine les données archéobotaniques actuellement disponibles pour la région
circum-Caraïbe en vue de procéder à une réévaluation des cultures botaniques de la région. Mon intention est de démontrer que les premiers mouvements démographiques insulaires (ca. 5600 BC) se sont produits par le biais de processus interrégionaux complexes
dans lesquels les plantes alimentaires représentaient des articles importants dans les réseaux
d’échange de biens et d’idées. L’article démontre que la dispersion de plantes alimentaires,
tout comme d’autres pratiques culturelles intrinsèquement liées à ces dernières, ont été une
réalité dès l’arrivée de l’homme dans le monde insulaire. Les détails sur l’ampleur de ces
processus sont toujours inconnus à ce jour et de nouvelles recherches se chargeront de traiter ces questions. Ce travail vise à être un cadre de référence de base pour l’étude archéologique la plus élargie de graines d’amidons formulée jusqu’à ce jour dans l’hémisphère.

Pagán-Jiménez

87

Introduction
Experts in Antillean archaeology have so far argued that two different pre-Arawak or
‘Archaic’ traditions made the pioneering entry into the islands from separate regions: the
Yucatán Peninsula and the Orinoco delta, located near both ends of the Antillean arc of
isles (Cuba and Trinidad/Tobago). Archaeological narratives tell that, once on the islands
(ca. 5500 BC), pre-Arawak people maintained their movement from Cuba and Trinidad/
Tobago to the northeast of the island arc, converging in Puerto Rico. Supposedly equipped
with subsistence strategies based on hunting, fishing and gathering, the pre-Arawak people lived for at least 5000 years on the islands until the arrival of the Saladoid: a new
and ‘more advanced’ culture which allegedly displaced or assimilated them (see Rodríguez
Ramos 2010 for discussion). Arguments and assumptions about the ‘true origin’ of the
pre-Arawak people have been built on comparative (i.e. morphological) elemental studies
of lithics (see Coe 1957; Wilson et al. 1998) and cartographic analyses of marine currents
of the Caribbean Sea (see Callaghan 2003; Rouse 1992), in conjunction with a Western
rationalization which sees the Yucatán and Orinoco regions as obvious jump stations to
the Antillean arc.
Starting in 2004, the author began to collect archaeobotanical data which strongly suggest a much more complex phenomenon. Today, some of those early groups traditionally
characterized as non-agricultural and nomadic, are considered carriers and producers of
domestic plants and crops of continental origin. These plant assemblages were extremely
important for many Neotropical cultures since at least 7000 BC and through all the periods defined to this date in the circum-Caribbean region. The archaeobotanical data also
suggest other possible continental points of origin and/or intense multi-vectorial interactions for the early human and crop dispersals into the Antilles. These interactions seem to
have been initially configured by pre-Arawak people and reinforced by subsequent cultures
through time. In this paper I will make a synthetic regional survey on the phytogeography
of some important circum-Caribbean economic plants based primarily on the recovered
microbotanical remains, particularly starch grains, pollen and phytoliths. The main objective here is to set up wide empirical foundations for the further formulation of feasible
phytocultural scenarios around some of the most significant human interactions and movements of plants in the pre-Colonial Antilles and the Greater Caribbean as a whole.

Continental circum-Caribbean and beyond: its early phytocultural
spectrum
Central America
Maize (Zea mays) has been underestimated in Antillean archaeology. It has been regarded
by many researchers (e.g. Rouse 1992; Newsom 2006) as a minor economic plant resource for the pre-Colonial cultures of the archipelagic and southern areas of the circum-Caribbean region, at least until a few centuries before the European irruption to the
Americas. Macrobotanical remains of this plant have been recovered in archaeological contexts of extraordinary organic preservation along the northern regions of Central America.
Some of those findings, along the periphery of the ascribed centre of maize domestication
in Mesoamerica (the Balsas River Valley in south-western Mexico), were dated close to
4000 BC in Mexico (Piperno and Flannery 2001). Pollen grain is also frequently used to

88

communities in contact

Figure 1 Selected early archaeological sites and/or natural places in the circum-Caribbean (and beyond)
mentioned in the text in which microbotanical remains have been studied.

establish the presence and variable stages of domestication of maize in the Neotropics. The
oldest dates of domestic maize pollen lie between ca. 5500 BC in the area of Xihuatoxtla,
Guerrero (Piperno et al. 2009) and 5200 BC (Pohl et al. 2007; Pope et al. 2001) at San
Andrés, Tabasco, this last one accompanied by the presence of domestic manioc (Manihot
esculenta) pollen (Figure 1).
Older pollen dates from its wild Zea correlate (Z. mays ssp. parviglumis and other “teosintles”) dated back to ca. 7000 BC in the region of initial domestication of maize along
the deciduous forests of Guerrero, Mexico (Piperno et al. 2009). So far the oldest microbotanical remains of domestic maize and other important economic plants (e.g. squash or
Cucurbita sp.) were recently published by Piperno et al. (2009) showing secure identifications of starch grains and phytoliths recovered from stone grinding tools and sediments of
the Xihuatoxtla rock shelter (Balsas River Valley region, Guerrero). These microbotanical
remains were reliably associated to fine dated contexts starting at 7000 BC, i.e. between
1500 and 2500 years earlier than estimated with pollen grains or macrobotanical remains
hitherto studied in that broad region. In fact, these new dates, directly linked with the initial domestication of maize, match the chronological estimates suggested by genetic studies
developed during the last decade (Doebley 2004; Matsuoka et al. 2002).
Considering the sample of data and sites present in table 1, it is established here that
the region of the Yucatán Peninsula and its immediate continental surroundings ��−��������
�������
i.e. a
region traditionally regarded as one of the areas from which some human groups moved
into the far west of the Antilles ca. 4000 BC (sensu Rouse 1992)��−��������������������������
were
�������������������������
an active territory

Pagán-Jiménez

89

90

communities in contact

La Mula

Monagrillo

Mexico

Mexico

Honduras

El Salvador

El Salvador

Belize

Costa Rica

Panamá

Panamá

Panamá

Panamá

Panamá

Panamá

Panamá

Panamá

Panamá

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

17

18.

Ladrones

Aguadulce

La Yeguada core

Cueva de los Santanas

Hornito

Casita de Piedra

Trapiche

Laguna Martínez core

Cob Swamp core

El Carmen

Laguna Verde core

Aguada Petapilla core

Guilá Naquitz

San Andrés, Tabasco
core

Veracruz core

Mexico

2.

Xihuatoxtla

Site/place name

Mexico

Country

1.

# in
Fig. 1

Zea mays, Dioscorea sp.

Zea mays

Zea mays, Dioscorea sp., Calathea sp.

a) Calathea allouia, Maranta arundinacea, Lagenaria sp.,
and cf. Cucurbita
b) Zea mays
c) Manihot esculenta, Maranta arundinacea, Fabaceae,
Dioscorea trifida and wild Dioscorea
d) Zea mays, Marantaceae

Zea mays

Zea mays

Zea mays, Zamia sp.

a) Maranta arundinacea
b) Manihot esculenta, Dioscorea sp., Zamia sp.,
Fabaceae
c) Zea mays, Zamia sp., Dioscorea sp., Calathea sp.,
Manihot esculenta, Fabaceae

Zea mays, Maranta arundinacea, Dioscorea sp.

Zea mays

Zea mays

Zea mays

Zea mays and other Zea species

Zea mays

Zea mays, Phaseolus sp.

Zea mays, Manihot esculenta

Zea mays

Zea mays, Cucurbita sp.,

Main plants identified

d) ca.4000BC and later

d) Phytolith

Starch
Starch

5900BC and later

3000BC and later

1300BC

b) ca.5000BC
c) ca.4000BC and later

b) Phytolith
c) Starch

Starch

a) before 5500BC

5000-4500BC

5000BC

a) Phytolith

Pollen and
phytolith

Phytolith

5600-4500BC

c) 2200-1600BC

c) Starch
Starch

a) 5400BC
b) 4800-4300BC

3000-2100BC

3550BC

2600BC and later

1400BC

2440BC and later

2700BC and later

4300BC and later

5200BC and later

2900BC and later

7000BC and later

Approximate range of
dates (calibrated)

a) Starch
b) Starch

Starch

Pollen

Pollen

Macroremains

Pollen

Pollen

Macroremains

Pollen, phytoliths

Pollen

Starch, phytolith

Botan. material

Dickau et al. 2007

Piperno and Holst 1998

Piperno and Holst 1998

Piperno and Holst 1998

Piperno and Pearsall 1998

Piperno and Pearsall 1998

Dickau et al. 2007

Dickau et al. 2007

Dickau et al. 2007

Horn 2006

Pohl et al. 1996

Dull 2006

Dull 2006

Webster et al. 2005

Piperno and Flannery 2001

Pope et al. 2001

Sluyter and Dominguez 2006

Piperno et al. 2009

Source

Pagán-Jiménez

91

Ecuador

Ecuador

Colombia

Colombia

French
Guiana

United
States

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Cuba

Saba

19.

20.

21.

22.

23.

24.

25.

26.

27.

28.

29.

Plum Piece

Canímar Abajo

Maisabel pond

Puerto Ferro

Maruca

Fort Center

Chemin Saint Louis

Jazmin, Guayabito and
Campoalegre sites

Peña Roja

Real Alto

Loma Alta

Site/place name

Prestoea montana, cf. Maranta arundinacea

Zea mays, Fabaceae (wild and domest), Ipomoea
batatas, Zamia (various sp.)

Zea mays, Canna sp., Ipomoea sp.

Zea mays, Fabaceae, Manihot esculenta, Ipomoea
batatas, Canna sp., Zamia portoricencis, Sagittaria sp.

Zea mays, Fabaceae, Manihot esculenta, Maranta arundinacea, Canavalia sp., Ipomoea batatas, Xanthosoma
sp. Dioscorea (wild), Zamia pumila, Aracaceae

Zea mays

Zea mays, Ipomoea batatas, wild and domestic
Phaseolus, Maranta cf. arundinacea, cf. Calathea sp.,
Manihot esculenta, Arecaceae, Capsicum (domestic), cf.
Sagittaria sp.

a) Zea mays, Xanthosoma sp., Dioscorea sp.,
b) Manihot esculenta

Calathea allouia, Cucurbita sp., Arecaceae

a) Zea mays, Manihot esculenta, Maranta arundinacea,
Canna sp.
b) Zea mays, Manihot esculenta, Calathea allouia

a) Zea mays, Maranta arundinacea
b) Capsicum sp., Manihot esculenta, Canavalia sp.

Main plants identified

Table 1 Some early sites and selected economic plants identified by its microbotanical remains in the circum-Caribbean and adjacent inland continental areas.

Country

# in
Fig. 1

Starch, raphide

Starch

Phytolith and
Pollen

Starch

Starch

Pollen

1870BC and later

3000BC and later

790 BC and after

2100BC and later

2800BC and later

500BC

2460 BC and later

b) 2000BC

b) Pollen
Starch

a) 7000BC and later

7300BC and later

a) 2800BC and later for
both microbotanical
remains

a) 4200BC and later
b) 3300BC and later

Approximate range of
dates (calibrated)

a) Pollen

Phytolith

b) Phytolith

a) Starch

a) Starch
b) Starch

Botan. material

Nieuwenhuis 2008

Rodríguez Suárez (in Paz 2006)

Newsom and Pearsall 2003

Pagán Jiménez 2009

Pagán Jiménez 2009

Sears 1982

Pagán Jiménez unpub. data

Gnecco and Aceituno 2004

Piperno and Pearsall 1998

Pearsall et al. 2004

Zarrillo et al. 2008

Source

of circulation for major economic plants such as maize, squash, manioc, and possibly other
high-yield plants like the common bean (Phaseolus sp.), from at least 7000 BC (Table 1).
On the southern part of Central America different lines of archaeobotanical evidence,
mainly rooted on starch grains and phytolith data, but also on pollen grains, have grown for
the last two decades in Costa Rica (e.g., Horn 2006) and Panama (e.g., Dickau et al. 2007).
Early and secure maize pollen has been found and dated for Laguna Martínez in Costa
Rica at around 3550 BC (Horn 2006). Similarly, maize pollen and phytoliths have been
identified in La Yeguada (Panama), in contexts dated between 5000 and 4500 BC, together
with the constant discovery of starch grains and phytoliths of maize, arrowroot (Maranta
arundinacea), manioc, lerén/calatea (Calthea sp.), cultivated and wild yams (Dioscorea sp.,
D. trifida), marunguey or guáyiga (Zamia sp.) and beans (Fabaceae, Phaseolus sp.), among
others plants. Similar plant assemblages have also been reported for a large number of ancient archaeological and natural contexts dated between 5900 to 1300 BC (Dickau et al.
2007; Piperno and Holst 1998). Microbotanical data confidently demonstrate that groups
inhabiting the Central American region participated in the processes of domestication and
early dispersals of the plants identified, long before the accepted estimations. According to
Dickau et al. (2007), the processes of crop dispersal in this region occurred in the context
of diffusion and/or plant exchange of germplasm and not by the movement of agricultural
populations (migration) from other culture areas. It should be stressed here that diffusion
can not be understood in the classic sense (e.g. sensu Steward 1963), but as a set of multivectorial processes based on social interactions and probably non-hierarchical exchanges
of goods, ideas and technologies (see Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006). In this
scenario, it has been argued that the Isthmus of Panama served as a land bridge between
North and South America for the early dispersion of many domestic resources (Dickau et
al. 2007:3651), and also for technologies such as metallurgy, and possibly the early development of ceramics, which certainly irradiated to all directions including the Antilles.
The archaeobotanical and palaeoecological information revealed for different chronocultural contexts all over Central America clearly encapsulates the whole region in a phytocultural setting in which the initial domestication of some of the most important economic plants of the Americas (e.g. maize, beans, chilli pepper, and squash) occurred. Even
though this broad region developed extremely diverse societies and cultures which evolved
at different rhythms, the movement of domestic and other economically important plant
resources was a constant process throughout the territory from ca. 7000 BC. All the ‘culture areas’ and ‘sub-areas’ encompassed within Central America actively participated in
the movement and exchange, not only of plant resources, but also of basic ethnobotanical
practices. This exchange permitted their adoption, adaptation and use among the different
systems of cultural values of the whole region.

Northern South America
In the South American continent, archaeobotanical and paleoecological research have also
revealed a set of important information. Outside the circum-Caribbean geographic mainland −that is, in the high and temperate regions of South America��������������������������
−�������������������������
, findings of desiccated
or charred maize, manioc and other economically valuable plants have been frequent for
decades. Countless macrobotanical remains of maize have been reported for the Atacama
Desert, between Chile and Peru, as well as for Ecuador and Argentina where some of them
were directly dated between 1500 and 500 BC (uncalibrated) (Blake 2006). Similarly,

92

communities in contact

macro- and microbotanical remains of seed and tuberous plants of great relevance to the
Neotropics like manioc, common bean, achira (Canna sp.) and wild yams, were known and
used mainly in South America from the fifth millennium BC or even before. In the Casma
Valley, Peru, hundreds of desiccated fragments of manioc have been reported in contexts
dated to as early as 1800 BC (Ugent et al. 1986). This suggests that manioc was being used
and manipulated long before that date given that its centre of origin was probably located
in the tropical lowlands of north-eastern South America and/or southern Brazil (Olsen and
Schaal 2006; Piperno 2006). Macrobotanical remains of sweet potato, recovered in Tres
Ventanas Cave at the Chilca Canyon (Engel 1973), and in the Casma Valley (Ugent et al.
1981), have been registered in association with pre-Ceramic contexts dated between 8000
and 6000 BC and between 2250 and 1775 BC, respectively.
In Ecuador, the early (4600 BC onwards) and consistent presence of microbotanical
remains (starches and phytoliths) at Real Alto and Loma Alta attest that the early processes of dispersion and use of important economic plants such as maize, arrowroot, jack
bean (Canavalia sp.), manioc, squash, common bean, palm (Aracaceae) and chilli pepper (Capsicum sp.) were highly complex, regionally extensive and chronologically deep
(Pearsall et al. 2004; Zarrillo et al. 2008).
For the immediate periphery of the South American circum-Caribbean, specifically the
inland region of Colombia, Castillo and Aceituno (2000; see also Gnecco and Aceituno
2004) have proposed a coherent model of human occupations for the early and middle
Holocene in the Porce River Valley, an hydrologic feature located in the central mountain
range of the Colombian Andes. Although the human presence in this area could have begun
around 7000 BC or earlier, paleofloristic data (mainly pollen) indicates little diversity of
the forests and absence of colonizing plant organisms. This suggests minimum alterations
due to foraging, which could go unnoticed in palynological columns. Later, between 5550
and 4000 BC, remarkable changes in the flora of some of the studied sites were documented in association with a set of cultural manifestations (e.g. changes in subsistence patterns
and rituals) that reflect deeper knowledge regarding the natural elements of this region and
deliberate management of the forests. Plants of the Araceae and Melastomataceae families,
regarded as colonizing organisms of disturbed forests, are recurrent in this phase which is
also characterized by the emergence of lithic artefacts such as edge-ground cobbles. In later
pre-Ceramic phases of the same region (ca. 4550-3000 BC), Castillo and Aceituno (2000)
documented for the first time in the palynological record the presence of domesticated
plants such as maize and manioc, as well as other potential crops of the Cucurbita, Smilax
and Amaranthus genus. Given the absence of these plants in the older zones of the palynological profiles, the researchers suggested that those plants constitute a complex of exotic
domesticated species which were integrated into the previously established cultivation systems. Moreover, analyses of phytoliths, starch grains and parenchymatous tissues carried
out on stone axes and milling stone bases of this phase, revealed the processing and use of
plants from the Aracaceae, Gramineae families and of the genus Scheelea and Manihot.
Research in the Araracuara region of the Colombian Amazon have provided interesting
accounts of the cultivation of some crops and useful plants (Oliver 2001). Between 7300
and 6150 BC, the people who inhabited the pre-Ceramic site Peña Roja exploited palm
seeds of the Onoecarpus, Mauritia, Maximiliana and Astrocaryum genus and other edible
fruits. These remains were recovered along with flaked and ground stone tools. Phytolith
studies carried out by Dolores Piperno on this site (Piperno and Pearsall 1998) also re-

Pagán-Jiménez

93

vealed the processing of important plants species such as lerén (Calathea allouia), güiro
(Lagenaria sp.) and squash (Oliver 2001). Slash and burn practices have also been identified in the same region earlier than 2750 BC. A sediment core extracted from a locality associated to the Abejas archaeological site provided palynological data showing the presence
and cultivation of maize and manioc spatially and temporarily linked to the Tubaboniba
pre-Ceramic tradition (Piperno and Pearsall 1998). It should be noted that the earliest evidence of maize within the sediment core was recovered 35 cm below the level dated at 2750
BC, thus indicating that the antiquity of this plant was older than that documented for
the area. In this context and according to the pollen record showing anthropogenic forest
disturbances, agricultural production based on slash and burn techniques was intense.
In the Cauca Valley of western Colombia various sediment core sequences have been
studied. One of them, known as Hacienda Lusitania (Monsalve 1985), identified the presence of maize pollen 15 cm below one of the sections of the core that was dated to 3200
BC. Once maize pollen appeared in these sediments, its occurrence increased, as did other
specimens of the Compositae family, while tree abundance decreased. Another study of core
sediments carried out in the same river valley (Bray et al. 1987), confirmed the early presence of maize pollen in a soil layer dated to 4730 BC.
The only early archaeological site located in the Caribbean region of Colombia and
where archaeobotanical information has been released is San Jacinto 1 (Oyuela and Bonzani
2005). This site, apparently used for special purpose activities, was intermittently inhabited
by hunter-gatherers between 5000 and 3900 BC and provided macro and microbotanical
remains (seeds, charred wood, phytoliths) of the genus Cyperus (junquillo), other grasses,
legumes, arrowroot and fruits ascribed to the dry season of the area. The presence of maize
or other economic plants such as manioc was not documented although inferences on their
potential use at the site have been proposed considering the great quantity of metates and
other ground stone tools recovered.
Surprisingly, only sparse archaeobotanical data directly associated to the early management and use of economic plants has been acquired in the north-eastern region of South
America. As already mentioned, this territory has been interpreted by many researchers
(see e.g., Rouse 1992; Wilson 2007) as the main epicentre for the large human migrations
who settled the Antilles from its earliest periods (ca. 5500 BC) and during the so-called
Early Ceramic Age (ca. 500 BC and later). Studies in the Parmana region of Venezuela
have shown detailed cultural sequences where changes in the demographic and settlement
patterns arose by ca. 2100 BC (Roosevelt 1980). Between that date and 1600 BC, the
inhabitants of the La Gruta phase seem to have maintained a low and stable population
density, which Roosevelt (1980) linked to the cultivation of manioc combined with a gathering-based subsistence system. Subsequently, according to Roosevelt, near 800 BC the
population increased rapidly in the region. However, this growth process stabilized when
the maximum level of population density was reached. During the next Corozal phase,
which began around 800 BC and extended until AD 100, maize was apparently introduced
and established as the main plant item of an intensive agricultural production system.
Maize macrobotanical remains associated to earlier occupations of the Corozal phase (i.e.,
Corozal I) were scarce, but still occurred in the Corozal and Parmana sites. In addition, the
production, use and consumption of maize is suggested by the presence of metates in archaeological sites ascribed to the Corozal II occupations (ca. 400 BC-AD 100). Conversely,
the chronology and some of the interpretations formulated by Roosevelt (1980) concern-

94

communities in contact

ing these issues were questioned by Sanoja and Vargas (1983), who suggested that the cultural development of the Corozal II occupations at Parmana, Corozal and Ronquín sites
took place later, at a point close to AD 360. These researchers proposed that the presence of
maize in the Corozal II sites was part of a process in which a new mixed subsistence system
combined the production of seed (maize) and tuberous (manioc) plants to take advantage
of both sandy soils of low productivity as well as high-yield clayey soils.
Other later archaeological contexts from the Pozo Azul Norte-1 site (ca. AD 300-900),
were recently studied by Linda Perry (2002, 2004) in the middle Orinoco river valley of
Venezuela. Among the interesting results of her starch grain research program, Perry documented plants such as maize, yam, arrowroot, guapo (Myrosoma sp.), ginger (Zingibeaceae)
and the complete absence of manioc in the many studied grater board microflakes which
have been consistently ascribed to the preparation of cassava (manioc) bread in circumCaribbean archaeology (see Rodríguez Ramos 2010).
Moving out to north-eastern Venezuela, a sequence of early human activities that began
ca. 4750 BC has been proposed along the coastline of Paria. According to Sanoja (1997),
cultural manifestations associated by him with hunter-gatherer-fisher groups arose in the
area from those times. The first indirect evidence correlated to plant production is the
presence of axes, hoes and conical pestles in domestic contexts of semi-permanent villages
(Guayana and Remigio sites; Sanoja 1997) dated between 3600 and 2650 BC. Later archaeological sites with ceramic technology (e.g., Las Varas: ca. 2650 BC) have been used
to propose the early management and use of plants based on morphological and use-wear
patterns observed in certain lithic artefacts. Unfortunately, there are no published archaeobotanical data for this region and its various early human occupations. This situation has
only left possible the proposal of conjectures on the development of plant production systems (see Sanoja 1997:163).
In the Guianese area, other pre-Ceramic and Early Ceramic sequences such as Barambina
Mound (Alaka phase: 3510 BC), Hossororo Creek (1600 BC) and the Mabaruma phase
(1600 BC) have revealed indirect information about the use of economic plants (Sanoja
1997:164). In some cases only lithic tools have been associated to plant processing while
others artefacts, such as some ceramic bowls, have been interpreted as cooking pots possibly used for the confection of food plant recipes.
This year (2010) the author was contracted by Inrap (Institut National de Recherches
Archéologiques Préventives) to conduct a microbotanical study (starch grains) on grinding stone tools, and ceramic pot and clay griddle fragments from the Chemin Saint-Louis
archaeological site in French Guiana. This microbotanical study is the first of its type developed on an early site near the north-eastern coast of the South American continent, on
the northern border of Amazonia. The site is characterized mainly as an Early Ceramic site
with a minor and earlier Archaic component. A set of twenty 14C dates place the overall
contexts between 3300 BC and AD 1200. The preliminary results of the analysis of fourteen artefacts distributed along contexts which ranges ca. 2460 BC to AD 410 revealed the
processing of plant organs from palm, beans, maize, arrowroot, cocoyam, sweet potato,
and possibly manioc and chilli pepper, among other unidentified species (Pagán Jiménez,
unpub. data). An additional wild plant was tentatively identified as arrowhead (also known
as swamp-potato) or Sagittaria sp.: a tuberous plant used in many regions of the American
continents for medicine and for food.

Pagán-Jiménez

95

The information outlined above was not intended to be exhaustive. The idea has been
to provide a descriptive overview on the phytogeography of some economic plants which
were important for the circum-Caribbean mainland, i.e., the geo-cultural entity that
surround(ed) the Antillean arc of islands to the south and west. Having sketched this
overview, a whole different span of interpretive possibilities can emerge regarding the early
movement of people and plants to the Antilles from the continental masses surveyed above.
These different possibilities must depart from the rigid visions still reflected in the recent
literature (Wilson 2007), which persistently ascribe a single socio-cultural character (i.e.,
hunter-gatherer-fishers) to the humans who began to settle the Antilles circa 5500 BC (see
also Rivera-Collazo, this volume).

‘Insular’ circum-Caribbean: early introduction and dispersals of
economic plants and their phytocultural implications
Of all the archaeobotanical or paleoecological research carried out in the Antilles, only the
pollen, phytoliths and starch grains have yielded illuminating results on the early introduction and use of domestic, wild plants and other crops (Newsom and Pearsall 2003; Pagán
Jiménez et al. 2005; Siegel et al. 2005) that provided some of the main sources of carbohydrates and vegetable protein for all pre-Colonial periods. Among these microbotanical
remains, starch grains have been so far the only secure plant residue recovered directly from
firmly dated pre-Arawak (“Archaic”) grinding/pounding lithic tools (Nieuwenhuis 2008;
Pagán Jiménez 2009). Pollen and phytoliths, though still very limited, are important when
integrated into the overall scenario exposed below.
Starch grain research has not been performed in the earliest pre-Arawak contexts of the
Antilles so far. The most extensive study corresponds to analysis of lithic tools from two
early pre-Arawak occupations in Puerto Rico, dating between ca. 2890 to 390 BC (Maruca
and Puerto Ferro sites, Pagán Jiménez et al. 2005; Pagán Jiménez 2009). Following the prevailing explanation models (Rouse 1992), these sites can be easily framed within the same
socio-cultural characterizations formulated for some of the earliest sites of the Antilles
(e.g., Banwari Trace, St. John and Ortoire in Trinidad, or Canímar Abajo in Cuba), which
date back to around 5500 BC. The archaeobotanical findings from Puerto Rico, located
just in the middle of the Antillean arch, shakes considerably our preconceptions about the
pre-Arawak cultures of the archipelago. Without disregarding the evident cultural diversity
of the Antillean arc since the earliest human occupations, local and regional developments
during the pre-Arawak occurred within an intra- and pan-Caribbean setting of dynamic
interactions.
Recent archaeobotanical data gathered in Maruca and Puerto Ferro demonstrates that
some of those people called “Archaic” managed and used exogenous domestic plants and
crops and exploited native Antillean wild plants. This information, raised by the study of
starch grains recovered from grinding/pounding lithic tools, identified domestic plants,
such as maize and manioc, beans and other crops, including sweet potato and cocoyam.
Wild plants were also processed with the studied tools: the underground stem of marunguey (Zamia portorricensis), rhizomes of achira (Canna sp.), tuberous root of a wild yam
(Dioscorea/Rajania sp.) and the seeds of the corozo palm (Acrocomia media). The initial
study was limited to only 6 lithic tools (Pagán Jiménez et al. 2005). Recently (Pagán Jiménez
2009), a substantial expansion of stone tool samples from each site (10 from Puerto Ferro
and 16 from Maruca) confirmed our previously published information, extended the pres-

96

communities in contact

ence of the identified plants to the earlier chronological contexts of both sites and broadened the geographical spectrum of some of those plants. This is the case, for example, for
the presence and intentional processing at both sites of the subterranean stems of marunguey (and now also Zamia pumila), of rhizomes of other wild plants in Puerto Ferro which
had not been previously documented (arrowhead or Sagittaria lancifolia) and the identification of an important plant for the economic botany of the Neotropics: arrowroot.
The results generated so far establish for the first time in the Antilles, and with a great
level of resolution, that the human groups who inhabited Maruca and Puerto Ferro, at least
from ca. 2890 BC, had to be using one or more plant cultivation systems (e.g. home gardens and open plots) in addition to fishing, hunting of small mammals and harvesting wild
plants and invertebrate fauna (Narganes Storde 1991, 2004). It is suggested, therefore, that
in terms of plants, their subsistence system was mixed at both sites, in which the planting
and harvesting of endogenous root and tuberous plants was interspersed with the planting
and harvesting of exogenous fruit, seed and tuberous plants. The identification of exogenous domestic plants (maize, manioc and some types of bean), as well as other crops (sweet
potato, cocoyam, yam, achira, etc.), suggests that the development of semi-sedentary life,
which includes here the creation of home gardens and/or “small” agricultural plots, were
in operation on or before ca. 2890 BC in Puerto Rico (for a deeper discussion see Pagán
Jiménez et al. 2005). Microbotanical data, along with some macrobotanical remains recovered in Maruca (i.e. possibly corozo, tortugo [Sideroxylon sp.], sapodilla [Manilkara sp.],
Malvaceae and unidentified tuber fragments; see Newsom and Pearsall 2003) offer additional support to the new socio-cultural scenario proposed elsewhere.
Interestingly, paleoecological studies carried out on the northern coast of Puerto Rico
(Burney et al. 1994) indicated that between 3500 and 1800 BC a significant increase in
paleo-fires (determined by charcoal particles) began near of the Laguna Tortuguero. The
authors adjudicated those events to possible anthropogenic activities. Today, we know that
the human groups who occupied for several periods the Angostura site in Barceloneta,
Puerto Rico, were possibly exploiting resources in the area from around ca. 4900 BC, and
settling Angostura with some redundancy between ca. 2400 and 1800 BC (see RiveraCollazo, this volume). These and/or other related people could be the true architects of the
changes observed in the paleo-fires sequences of the area due to the possible development
of slash and burn agricultural systems (Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006). A similar situation has been documented and interpreted for the north of Vieques island (Sara
et al. 2003), when charcoal particles increased drastically by around 840 BC. Also, the
recovery of macrobotanical remains belonging to arboreal taxa (fruits and vegetables) and
some grasses (colonizing organisms such as Portulaca sp.) in other previously studied preArawak sites of the Antilles (see Newsom and Wing 2004), suggests that the development
of arboriculture/home gardens, or the creation of agricultural fields, could be possible with
the preparation (slash and burn) of the field which probably stimulated the appearance
of colonizing plants (Newsom 1993; Newsom and Pearsall 2003; Pagán Jiménez 2002,
2007). The archaeobotanical data obtained from Maruca and Puerto Ferro also underpins
some indirect results previously provided by other researchers which identified maize pollen and phytoliths in contexts dated to ca. 790 and 1450 BC in northern Puerto Rico and
the Dominican Republic, respectively (Newsom and Pearsall 2003; Sanoja 1989; Siegel et
al. 2005).

Pagán-Jiménez

97

The overall data summarized above suggests the structural complexity characterising
the pre-Arawak people in view of the large amount of information that they had to build,
organize and maintain for processing and securing the production of different plants (e.g.,
knowledge of soils and water for each species, time for planting and harvesting of crops,
type of treatment for the elimination of toxic elements); for collecting molluscs, crustaceans and wild plants that were accessible in different seasonal periods; and for developing
fishing practices to procure broad-spectrum species in marine and riparian environments.
This level of expertise probably could be obtained, accumulated and managed if, among
other things, a cosmological order ad hoc with the Antillean physical and natural world existed and was, perhaps, attended by a valued (special) individual or a group of them.
Based on the information compiled herein, the inhabitants of Maruca and Puerto Ferro,
rather than representing a new and exogenous human mobilization to the Antilles, were
descendants of immigrants who arrived centuries or perhaps thousands of years before,
who mastered the production of manioc, maize, sweet potato and beans and combined
it with other consumption practices rooted in the Antillean tradition of procurement,
maintenance and consumption of marunguey. The vast accumulation of knowledge that
the inhabitants of Maruca and Puerto Ferro handled regarding their natural environments
allowed them to operate a broad-spectrum economy which permitted the configuration
of a varied and highly nutritive menu consisting in faunal items extracted from nature,
combined with an important set of local and exogenous food plants. There is not a clear
hierarchical distinction between the produced food plants and those gathered from the nature. However, it should be noted here the remarkable correlation of plants such as maize,
manioc, bean, sweet potato and marunguey in the studied sites (see Pagán Jiménez et al.
2005) having been plants that we know were truly relevant for later Antillean agricultural
pre-Colonial economies.
Although the archaeobotanical data collected up to now is certainly not extensive
enough to imply that plant derivates were the food staple of the inhabitants of Puerto Ferro
and Maruca, it is reasonable to conclude that the systematic production of some of them
(with different intensities through time) was a fact from ca. 2890 BC and perhaps earlier.
Previous interpretations could apply to Puerto Rico and beyond if a particular combination of artefacts is recovered in other pre-Arawak sites, including (but not restricted to)
edge-ground cobbles, conical pestles, irregular manos and milling stone/coral bases. In fact,
and reinforcing those previous propositions, recent starch grain analyses on lithic manos
and edge-ground cobbles from Canímar Abajo (Cuba) −������������������������������������
�������������������������������������
one of the earliest Antillean sites
dating to ca. 5650 BC��−�������������������������������������������������������������������
identified
������������������������������������������������������������������
maize, sweet potato, beans (wild and domestic) and several species of marunguey (Zamia sp.), and other useful plants on contexts dated between
1266-816 BC and earlier (see Martínez-López et al. 2009; Paz 2006).
As already mentioned, the archaeobotanical information gathered on some pre-Arawak
sites of the Greater Antilles questions the traditional explanatory models from our region.
These models place all the cultural manifestations prior to the agro-ceramic Saladoid expansion in an extremely simple and passive level of socio-cultural development (see e.g.,
Fitzpatrick and Keegan 2008; Wilson 2007). Several lines of reasoning shape these models.
The first one emerges from the idea that the pre-Arawak human groups were usually organized into non-agricultural and family-based nomadic bands, which had a social structure 

Bone chemistry-isotope studies should be performed to determine these aspects (see Laffoon and de Vos, this
volume).

98

communities in contact

similar to that described for continental Archaic people (see Rouse 1992; Veloz Maggiolo
and Pantel 1988; Veloz Maggiolo and Vega 1987). An examination of the current state of
knowledge concerning the so-called Paleoindian, especially during the late Pleistocene and
the early and middle Holocene (see Dillehay 2008; Scott Raymond 2008), reveals that the
argument is built on an assumption of family-based bands organized around the exploitation of different seasonally available resources. Therefore, the establishment of the various
types of early human settlements in continental America was seen as evidence of a certain
degree of rational/logistic mobility based on the availability of different resources. A good
example of this is the case of San Jacinto 1, an archaeological site where sufficient and
different sources of data supported this type of explanatory models (Oyuela and Bonzani
2005). For the Antillean pre-Arawak horizon, it had been easy to consider that settlements
would also respond to this kind of rational/logistic mobility (Newsom and Wing 2004;
Rouse 1992; Veloz Maggiolo 1991, 1992), although more dependance on the availability
of coastal resources.
Another line of reasoning in support of the prevailing explanatory models of the
Antillean archaeology is rooted in the archaeological research of some of the “Archaic” and
protoagrícola sites of the region. These research programs initially built and then reinforced
in the academic community the well-grounded perception that pre-Arawak groups correspond to a development level called the ‘gatherer way of life’ (or “modo de vida recolector”
sensu Veloz Maggiolo 1992; Veloz Maggiolo and Pantel 1988; Veloz Maggiolo and Vega
1982, 1987), ‘appropriator’ (e.g., Guarch Delmonte 1990) or simply hunter-gatherer-fisher (Callaghan 2003; Curet 2003; Goodwin 1979; Rouse 1992; Tabío and Rey 1985). Thus,
the factual evidence recovered in many Antillean “Archaic” sites, including stone, shell and
bone tools together with faunal food remains, have been seen as data supporting such a
level of socio-cultural development. This panorama, combined with the ‘complete absence’
of visible macrobotanical (domestic) plant remains and a perceived lack of ceramic technology (Rodríguez Ramos et al. 2008), has been decisive to place these human groups at the
lowest and “primitive” position in the pre-Colonial scale of socio-cultural evolution (see
Rivera-Collazo, this volume; Rodríguez Ramos 2008).
Therefore, the information produced for Maruca and Puerto Ferro, together with other recent archaeobotanical data recovered over the last 8 years in Puerto Rico and other
Antillean islands have become serious indicators that should encourage new thinking about
the pre-Colonial cultures. In synthesis, at least some pre-Arawak societies interpreted for
more than 80 years as hunter-gatherer-fishers and who supposedly maintained a nomadic
way of life, are now interpreted as societies with notable sedentism that were producing
domestic food plants and other crops (possibly in a “low-level food production” fashion,
sensu Smith 2001), and managing wild plant resources for food. Indeed, some of the exogenous domestic plants and food crops (maize, manioc, sweet potato) that were thought
to be brought to the Antilles by the first strictly agro-ceramic settlers of continental origin
(i.e., the Saladoids and Huecoids, ca. 500 BC, Rouse 1992), are now chronologically situated nearly two millennia prior to the traditional conception widely accepted. It should be
highlighted that an important plant assemblage associated with some culinary traditions
of the Isthmo-Colombian region (or ICr), has been also identified in Puerto Rico and
Vieques and directly related to artefact-types (e.g., edge ground-cobbles and milling stone
bases) that are common to both geographical regions (Rodríguez Ramos 2005, 2010).
Accordingly, pan-Caribbean interactions have been revealed between the Antilles and the

Pagán-Jiménez

99

ICr, implying the movement of people and/or plants through the chain of isles in earlier
dates than that known for Maruca and Puerto Ferro. Conversely, as has been suggested by
these and other data (Rodríguez Ramos 2010), the movement of people and plants between
those two areas (i.e., the ICr and Puerto Rico) could have occurred through direct marine
voyages across the open sea (Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006).

Later phytocultural dynamics in the Antilles: a surface view from
Puerto Rico and its pan-Caribbean implications
After more than 5000 years of pre-Arawak occupations in the Antilles, various new cultural manifestations which brought typically continental ceramic traditions and culinary
practices entered the island region from various areas of north and north-western South
America. In this context, the starch grain analysis approach applied to culturally exogenous
and endogenous agro-ceramic artefact assemblages �������������������������������������
−������������������������������������
like those of the Huecoid, Saladoid
and Ostionoid people from Puerto Rico and Cuba��−�����������������������������������
has
����������������������������������
begun to demystify some rigid
pre-understandings regarding tool function and the plants which were supposedly processed or cooked with them (table 2). This is the case of the burén or clay griddle that for
more than 70 years has been associated with the cooking or handling of manioc (cassava)
bread. Now, this artefact is also directly related with a broader spectrum of plants (e.g.,
maize, bean, arrowroot, sweet potato and marunguey, among others) where manioc has not
yet been identified (see Pagán Jiménez 2009). Similar data began to emerge from a small
sample of studied microflakes, which were interpreted as grater board teeth and have been
historically considered part of the toolkit to process the manioc tuberous roots. Now these
tiny artefacts have revealed that many of the plants identified in the burenes (maize, arrowroot, marunguey) were also processed with them (Pagán Jiménez 2006), but not manioc
as has also been shown for pre-Colonial Bahamas (Berman and Pearsall 2000, 2008) and
Venezuela (Perry 2002, 2004).
Starch grain analyses have also contributed to interpretations of the cultural biography
of some economically important plants such as maize. This versatile plant has been consistently interpreted (Newsom 2006; Newsom and Wing 2004) as a high status food resource
consumed exclusively by the late Ostionoid indigenous elite of Hispaniola and also as a
plant of minor importance for the overall pre-Colonial diet of the islands in any period. I
have established elsewhere (Pagán Jiménez 2007, 2009, 2010) that the ways of processing
and consumption of its seeds go beyond the allegedly restrictive and sometimes simple uses
that still continue to be attributed to this botanical resource (see e.g. Newsom 2006, 2008).
According to Newsom, the kernels of this plant were consumed green or boiled by the indigenous elite. However, recent starch grain research in the Bahamas (Berman and Pearsall
2008), Cuba (Rodríguez Suárez and Pagán Jiménez 2008) and Puerto Rico (see e.g., Pagán
Jiménez 2009), has firmly demonstrated the presence of maize starches in grinding/pounding/grating stone tools and clay griddles of fourteen archaeological sites and contexts, ranging from domestic/communal to ritual/magic-religious spaces and artefacts of all the periods defined for the northern Antilles, which contrast heavily with those previous restrictive
assumptions assigned to this plant (see also Pagán Jiménez 2007). Maybe maize was never a
Next page: Table 2 Antillean archaeological sites where starch grain studies has been formally performed
or published. * Calibrations were made using Calib Radiocarbon Calibration Program (Rev 5.0.1).
Calibration data sets: intcal04.14c (Reimer et al. 2004) and marine04.14c (Hughen et al. 2004).

100

communities in contact

Pagán-Jiménez

101

340BC – AD220 (2)
160BC – AD540 (11)

Saba Island (Lesser
Antilles)

Humacao, Puerto
Rico

Vieques, Puerto Rico

3. Plum Piece

Ceiba, Puerto Rico

Utuado, Puerto Rico

Guantánamo, Cuba

Ceiba, Puerto Rico

12. Ceiba 11

13. Vega Nelo Vargas
(Utu-27)

14. Laguna de Limones

15. Ceiba 33

AD1410-1470 (1)

AD1200 – 1600 (only
relative chronology)

AD1280 – 1430 (4)

AD1150-1270 (2)

AD1150 – 1490 (1)

AD680 – 1190 (2)

Utuado, Puerto Rico

Guantánamo, Cuba

AD660 – 1020 (2)

11. Macambo II

10. Cueva de los
Muertos (SR-1)

9. Punta Candelero

Humacao, Puerto
Rico

AD640-880 (2)

Yabucoa, Puerto Rico

8. Punta Guayanés
(King’s Helmet area)

AD600-1160 (12)

San Salvador,
Bahamas

7. Three Dog

AD350 – 890 (6)

Arecibo, Puerto Rico

2260 – 340BC (10)

6. Río Tanamá 2 (AR-39)

5.Sorcé/La Hueca
(depósito Z)

4. Punta Candelero

1870 – 1520BC (3)

Vieques, Puerto Rico

2. Puerto Ferro

2870 – 630BC (9)

Ponce, Puerto Rico

1. Maruca

Chronological ranges with
2σ calibrations BC-AD*
(number of samples
considered in parenthesis)

Region/Country

Site name

Ostionoid (late Ostiones or Esperanza)

Ostionoid (late Taíno)

Ostionoid (late Ostiones or Capá- taíno)

Early and late Ostiones (Santa Elena
and Esperanza)

Ostionoid (late Taíno)

Ostionoid (modified Ostiones or
proto-taíno)

Late Saladoid (Cuevas)

Late Saladoid (Cuevas)

Ostionoid (Early Lucayan)

Late Saladoid (Cuevas)-Early Ostiones
(Santa Elena)

Huecoid

Huecoid

Archaic

Archaic

Archaic

Cultural ascription

6 (4)

Alluvial plain ∼5,950 m

Terrace on a Coastal hill
∼1250m

Coastal plain/terrace
∼7,200 m

Karst piedmont/small
valley ∼19,390 m

3 (3)

4 (4)

4 (4)

5 (5)

Coastal hill (top) ∼750 m

3 (3)

Karst hill ∼17,400 m

1 (1)

13 (12)

Coastal plain ∼120 m

Coastal plain > 100 m

5 (4)

Promontory over coastal
hill ∼50-100 m

28 (14)

40 (33)

Alluvial plain ∼330 m

Plain over sand dune
∼30 m

18 (15)

Coastal plain ∼120 m

12 (12)

Coastal slope ∼1,200 m
11 (5)

20 (20)

Coastal plain ∼1,500 m

Upland (mountain)
∼772 m

No. of artefacts
studied (artefacts
with starch content
in parenthesis )

Physiographic elements
and distance to shore
line (in meters)

Pagán Jiménez 2010

Rodríguez Suárez and
Pagán Jiménez 2008

Pagán Jiménez and Oliver
2008

Pagán Jiménez 2010

Rodríguez Suárez and
Pagán Jiménez 2008

Pagán Jiménez and Oliver
2008

Pagán Jiménez 2006

Pagán Jiménez 2008b

Berman and Pearsall 2000,
2008

Pagán Jiménez 2008a

Pagán Jiménez 2007

Pagán Jiménez 2007

Nieuwenhuis 2008

Pagán Jiménez 2009;
Pagán Jiménez et al. 2005

Pagán Jiménez 2009;
Pagán Jiménez et al. 2005

Reference

Period IVf

Ubiquity of plants
through periods (%)
83.3

Starch1; charred fragments3

X

X

X

66.6

Starch1; charred fragments3

X

X

X

66.6

Starch1

X

X

⊗ Yuca or Manioc (Manihot esculenta Cranz)

X

♦ Ñame silvestre(Dioscorea/Rajania)

X

Remains recovered
(referentes)

Period IIIe

X

⊗ Batata or Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas)

Vernacular name (taxa)

Period IIc

X

Period IIb

X

Period Ia

Period IId

food staple in the region at any point in time, although its variable uses defined up to now
(Pagán Jiménez 2010) were more generalized than those interpreted before.
Conversely, another exotic plant has been targeted as the most important source of
carbohydrates for many pre-Colonial societies in the Antilles: manioc. This food plant,
to date, has been poorly documented in the archaeological contexts studied. According
to some chroniclers (Colón 1992; Las Casas 1909; Fernández de Oviedo 1851), during
the initial Indigenous-European contact period, manioc was the staple crop of those indigenous societies in some of the islands like Puerto Rico, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and
Bahamas. However, there is also clear information regarding the importance of other plants
such as marunguey (or guáyiga) which for chroniclers like Las Casas (1909) were even more
important than manioc or sweet potato in the region of Higüey of eastern Hispaniola (see
Pagán Jiménez 2007; Pagán Jiménez and Oliver 2008; Veloz Maggiolo 1992).
Considering this scenario it would be expected �����������������������������������������
−����������������������������������������
at least for those later archaeological
sites of the Greater Antilles (e.g., early and late Ostionoid sites of Puerto Rico and Cuba)
in which 18 lithic and ceramic artefacts have been studied for starch content��
−�������������
that
������������
manioc
were ubiquitously present if this plant was so important for the cultural spectrum generically encapsulated under the Taíno. On the contrary, starch grain studies conducted so
far evidence a different picture; namely that the knowledge and use of many of the plants
previously documented remained important and possibly more so than manioc (see Pagán
Jiménez and Oliver 2008; Rodríguez Suárez and Pagán Jiménez 2008). Archaeobotanical
studies conducted in these late archaeological sites registered the use of plants such as an-

Tubers (and rhizomes, roots and tuberous
stems)

♦ Ñame mapuey (Dioscorea trifida)

X

16.6

Starch1

♦ Ñame dunguey (Dioscorea altissima)

X

16.6

Starch1

X

50

Starch1

X

X

66.6

Starch1

X

X

33.3

Starch1

33.3

Starch1

50

Starch1

50

Starch1, 2; desiccated leaves5

⊗ Achira or Gruya (Canna indica)

X

⊗ Yautía Blanca (Xanthosoma sagittifolium)

X

X
X

⊗ Yautía de palma (Xanthosoma undipes)
♦ Marunguey (Zamia portoricensis)

X

X

♦ Marunguey (Zamia amblyphyllidia)

X

♦ Marunguey, Guáyiga (Zamia pumila)

X

X

X

♦ Yuquilla, Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea)

X

X

X

⊗ Lerén (Calathea allouia)
♦ Flecha de agua (Sagittaria lancifolia)

X

X

X

X

X

83.3

Starch1

X

X

50

Starch1

16.6

Starch2

33.3

Starch1

X

♦ Calatea (Calathea cf. veitchiana)

X

۞ Suelda consuelda (Anredera vesicaria)

X

16.6

Starch1

۞ Bejuco de membrillo (Smilax dominguensis)

X

16.6

Starch1

102

communities in contact

X

Ubiquity of plants
through periods (%)
66.6

Starch1

X

83.3

Starch1; Seed and kernel fragments3; charred fragments3;
pollen6

X

X

66.6

Starch1

X

X

50

Starch1; Seed3

Ω Achiote (Bixa orellana)

X

X

33.3

Starch1; Seed3

♦ Verdolaga (Portulaca sp.)

X

X

33.3

Seed3

۞ Yerba coquí (Hypoxis sp.)

X

X

33.3

Seed3

√ Cohoba (Anadenanthera sp.)

X

16.6

Starch7 Seed/Wood3

16.6

Seed4

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X
X

Period IIc

X

Period IIb

X

Period Ia

X

Remains recovered
(referentes)

Period IVf

Starch1; Seed3

Period IIIe

66.6

Period IId

X

Vernacular name (taxa)

Seed plants
♦ Frijol silvestre (Fabaceae)
⊗ Frijol domesticado (Phaseolus vulgaris)
♦ Maíz (Zea mays)

⊗ Haba (Canavalia)
-- Poaceae

Fruits
⊗ Aguacate (Persea americana)

X

⊗ Zapote amarillo (Pouteria campechianum)

X

⊗ Palma corozo (Acrocomia media)

X

⊗ Papaya-Lechosa (Carica papaya)

X

X

X

83.3

Wood/Seed3

X

X

50

Starch1; Seed3

X

⊗ Guayaba (Psidium guajava)
⊗ Guanábana/coyur/anón (Annona sp.)
⊗ Palma (Aracaceae)

X

16.6

Seed3

X

X

33.3

Seed/Wood3

X

X

33.3

Wood/Seed3

X

33.3

Seed3

X

Ω Higüera (Crescentia cujete)

X

X

33.3

Seed/Wood3

⊗ Guácima (Guazuma ulmifolia)

X

X

33.3

Wood3

⊗ Jagua (Genipa americana)

X

16.6

Wood3

⊗ Uva de playa (Coccoloba uvifera)
⊗ Caimito (Chrysophyllim cainito)

X

X
X

X

50

Seed/Wood3

16.6

Seed/Wood3

Table 3 Selected economic plants identified by previous paleoethnobotanical studies in Puerto Rico.
Periods (approximate 14C date ranges, see Rodríguez Ramos 2010): a, “Archaic Period” (5500BCAD100); b, “Agro-ceramic Period”, La Hueca Culture (350BC-AD400); c, “Agro-ceramic Period”, Early
Saladoid Culture (400BC-AD400); d, “Agro-ceramic Period”, Late Saladoid Culture (AD300-900); e,
“Agro-ceramic Period”, Ostionoid “Early Taino” Culture (AD400-1100); f, “Agro-ceramic Period”,
Ostionoid “Late Taino” Culture (AD900-1550); Symbols: ⊗ = food plants (their seeds, tubers and/or
fruits); ♦ = food and/or medicinal plants (their seeds, tubers, fruits and more); Ω = industrial plants
(used for dye, condiment, fuel, construction, raw material for artefacts elaboration, etc.); ۞ = medicinal
(their seeds, leaves, tubers, etc.); √ = hallucinogen (their seeds, exudates, etc.); -- = unknown use; Notes:
1, Source data: Pagán Jiménez (2007); 2, Source data: Pagán Jiménez (2009); 3, Source data: Newsom
and Wing (2004). Clarification for this source: Macro-botanical remains of plants like maize, achiote, batata, yuca and frijol (Fabaceae) have been found in no more than 2 of the approximately 36 sites
studied for botanical macro-remains content in the region; 4, Source data: Rouse and Alegría (1990); 5,
Source data: Veloz Maggiolo (1992); 6, Source data: Lane et al. (2008); 7, Source data: Pagán Jiménez
(unpublished data).

Pagán-Jiménez

103

natto for the first time (see Newsom and Wing 2004; Pagán Jiménez 2007), while marunguey, arrowroot, maize, bean and sweet potato, placed within the total number of samples
studied, are the most ubiquitous plants to be found (see some identified taxa per period
in table 3). Undoubtedly, manioc starches have been recovered in early and late Ostionoid
contexts from Puerto Rico, although its occurrence within the total assemblage of studied
artefacts is almost imperceptible. These Ostionoid artefacts with manioc starch include a
stone mortar from Vega de Nelo Vargas site (Utu-27: AD 1280-1430), two milling stone
bases and one edge-ground cobble from Cueva de los Muertos (AD 680-1190), both sites
located in Utuado, Puerto Rico. Another artefact where a single manioc starch grain was
recovered is a ceramic pot fragment from Ceiba 11 site (AD 1150-1270). This artefact
contained charred crust, presumably food remains, attached to the inside of the utensil
(Pagán Jiménez 2010). Two other late Ostionoid sites from Cuba (Laguna de Limones and
Macambo II) did not reveal the use and preparation of any manioc recipe (e.g., cassava
bread) even when 5 different burenes subjected to starch analysis documented grains of
marunguey, bean, maize, sweet potato, cocoyam and arrowroot in a similar fashion than
those documented in 5 other burenes in Puerto Rico associated to two late Saladoid sites
and one late Ostionoid site (Pagán Jiménez 2008a, 2008b; Rodríguez Suárez and Pagán
Jiménez 2008).
At least for pre-Colonial Puerto Rico, the observed tendency is quite clear: a broadspectrum economy was important for all the cultural periods studied until now. Each site,
its respective ecosystems and the varied ways of exploiting them should have its own specificities and dynamics. Among them, we interpreted intra- and inter-site particularities
regarding the use of and access to certain plants through time (e.g., Pagán Jiménez 2007).
In other words, the phytocultural dynamics that existed within the studied sites show that
some plants which were apparently highly esteemed at a given time subsequently decreased
significantly or simply disappeared from the archaeobotanical record, resulting inversely
in the increase of other plants. These are the specificities that can help us to define the
nature of the economic and botanical cultures of our ancestors at the local, regional and
pan-Caribbean levels.

Concluding remarks
This brief overview has made clear that the time of the earliest incursions into the Antilles
(ca. 5500 BC) was characterized by processes of intense human mobility occurring along
the entire surrounding continental area since long before. This time also marks true attempts at plant domestication and dispersion while diverse and strong, local or regional
identities started to take shape and were later accentuated. Therefore, more than answers,
this essay has intended to generate further questions regarding the circum-Caribbean phytocultural circumstances, particularly during the earliest migration and settlement episodes
on the Antilles. The recent multidisciplinary evidence from the continent and the islands
supports the call for the reconsideration of the “appropriator” or hunter-gatherer-fisher
character of the first Antillean inhabitants, as we have argued elsewhere (Pagán Jiménez
et al. 2005; Rodríguez Ramos 2008; Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006; see also
Rivera-Collazo this volume). 

Laguna de Limones (AD 1150-1490) and Macambo II (AD 1200-1600, relative chronology), both sites in
Guantánamo Province.

104

communities in contact

Figure 2: Interrelated (arrows) plants among assemblages through the archipelagic and continental areas of the circum-Caribbean, early human occupations. The “question” symbol represents void spaces for
archaeobotanical data during the same early periods.

Pagán-Jiménez

105

Using the archaeobotanical information summarized above for Puerto Rico and the
surrounding region, several strong statements can be confidently made. The interaction
vectors initially developed by the Antillean pre-Arawak societies were consistently reinforced over thousands of years. At least between Puerto Rico and the ICr (figure 2), there
was a constant flow of botanic resources, technology, ideas and values among pre-Arawak
groups and among later agro-ceramist groups as well (e.g., Huecoids, see Pagán Jiménez
2007; Rodríguez Ramos 2010; Rodríguez Ramos et al. 2008; Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán
Jiménez 2006).
Other traditionally accepted interaction vectors, such as those between the Orinoco
region and the Antilles, or between the Florida peninsula and the Antilles, can also be
recognized during the earliest migrations towards the islands. This has important implications regarding the flow of economic plants from the Antilles towards the southeast United
States (Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006). The Antilles was previously discarded
as an open vector for the dispersal of important botanical resources like maize from South
America to the southeast United States before the Christian era, as Sears (1982) proposed,
due to the absence of direct archaeobotanical data within the islands and to the attributed
hunting-gathering-fishing nature of their “Archaic” inhabitants (see e.g., Keegan 1987).
This view of the Antillean region can now be transcended, notwithstanding the fact that
the new direct paleoethnobotanical evidence for the presence and use of maize and other
economic plants (e.g., marunguey sp.) before the Christian era is still regionally limited to
Puerto Rico and Cuba (Pagán Jiménez et al. 2005; Pagán Jiménez 2009; Siegel et al. 2005).
Further research on ancient starch grain on additional Antillean islands and from different
time periods should provide further evidence to reformulate this important geo-cultural
connection. Promising research lines include the exchange of economic botanic resources
(e.g. maize, marunguey or Zamia) and other socio-cultural practices associated with them,
such as the processing and consumption of marunguey. Certainly, with the formulation
of archaeobotanical projects like the one we are initiating here, we can provide from the
Antilles new and unexpected data about some of the important paleoethnobotanical information gaps that still exist in such continental region (see Brown 1994; Kelly et al. 2006;
Lusteck 2006).
The attempt to understand the role of botanic cultures within the context of preColonial cultural development and evolution in other areas of the Antilles and its continental surrounding, clashes with the fact that there is no comparable information neither
quantitative nor qualitative, excluding Panama and Colombia. The paleoethnobotanical
(i.e., macrobotanical) studies done for almost 30 years in the Antilles, even though significant (see e.g., Newsom and Wing 2004; Newsom 2008) have not provided fundamental
data about the economic and nutritious plants that supplied the bulk of carbohydrates and
vegetable protein in the indigenous diet of any period. It is definitely necessary to develop
multidisciplinary synchronic and diachronic studies regarding the phytocultural characteristics of the Antillean pre-Colonial cultures. This can be achieved, for example, through
the integrative research of macro and microbotanical remains, chemistry of human remains
and chemistry of food crusts attached to artefacts. However, the study of starch grains has
been the most precise approach in these regards as it can establish a direct link between root
and seed resources to the tools humans used to satisfy diverse biocultural needs. Integrating
this approach to the research program of the Leiden University Caribbean Research Group
will begin to address some of the large information voids, not only on the Antillean islands

106

communities in contact

themselves, but also in some continental areas, such as French Guiana and surrounding
territories.

Acknowledgements
Thanks go to my friends Reniel Rodríguez Ramos and Isabel Rivera Collazo for sharing their points of view on some of the issues raised in this paper. Isabel also helped me
greatly with the translation of various pages of this paper and doing a detailed correction
of my ‘English’. I need to thank Martijn van den Bel for permitting me to work within the extraordinary research program of Inrap-Guyane. Finally, I appreciate very much
the gentle interaction I had with the people of the Caribbean Research Group at Leiden
University during the Leiden in the Caribbean event in March 2010. Special gratitude deserves Professor Corinne Hofman for all kindly and professional support to my career.

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T he
the

circulation of jadeitite across

Caribbeanscape
Reniel Rodríguez Ramos

The multi-vectorial distribution of the various forms of jade has received renewed attention in the Americas. This has resulted from two recent developments: the identification
of artefacts in pre-Colonial contexts of the Antilles made of a variety of jadeitite which
was purportedly obtained from the Motagua River Valley in Guatemala, the main source
of this raw material documented thus far in Central America, and; the finding of jadeitite
outcrops in Hispaniola and Cuba, which drastically alter previous notions regarding the
geologic occurrence of this raw material in the western hemisphere. In this paper, I will
discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of the dynamics of interaction registered between the pre-Hispanic inhabitants of the Greater Caribbean.
La distribución multivectorial de las diversas formas de jade ha recibido una renovada atención recientemente en las Américas. Esto ha sido el resultado de dos eventos importantes: la
identificación de artefactos en contextos precoloniales antillanos hechos de una variedad de
jadeitita la cual fue probablemente obtenida del Valle de Motagua en Guatemala, la fuente principal de este tipo de material en América Central, y; la identificación de fuentes de
jadeitita en La Española y Cuba, lo cual altera drásticamente las nociones previas en torno
a la ocurrencia geológica de este tipo de material en el hemisferio occidental. En este articulo, se discutirán las implicaciones que estos hallazgos tienen para nuestro entendimiento
en torno a las dinámicas de interacción registradas entre los habitantes prehispánicos del
Gran Caribe.
La distribution multi-vectorielle des différentes formes de jade a fait l’objet d’un regain
d’intérêt dans les Amériques. Ceci résulte de deux évolutions récentes : l’identification des
artefacts dans les contextes précoloniaux antillais, fabriqués dans une variété de jadéite présumée provenir de la vallée de la rivière Motagua au Guatemala, source principale de cette
matière première identifiée jusqu’ici en Amérique centrale, et la découverte d’affleurements
de jadéite à Hispaniola et à Cuba, qui modifient radicalement les notions antérieures sur la
présence géologique de cette matière première dans l’hémisphère occidental. Dans cette article, je débattrai des implications de ces trouvailles sur la compréhension des dynamiques
d’interactions répertoriées entre les habitants préhispaniques de la grande Caraïbe.

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117

“En la obtención de esas piedras, como todos los materiales que los aborígenes empleaban en la fabricación de sus objetos utilitarios, se practicaba un ritual especial de ayunos y abstinencias. Las piedras
adivinatorias exigen cierta redondez y brillo para darle cierta atracción sagrada. Estas operaciones
solían realizarse en el mismo río donde descubrían el material adecuado. Es posible que las mismas
prácticas se aplicaran en la obtención de la materia prima de los jades” Aguilar (2003:78).

In the process of transforming a rock into a humanized object, the selection of particular raw materials plays an essential role. Raw materials were chosen not only on the basis
of functional qualities such as their hardness or edge-retention capacity but also by virtue
of ideotechnic considerations such as their colour, lustre, or place of origin. Some rocks
were particularly valued in ancient times, being circulated across vast distances even when
raw materials with similar qualities were locally available in their contexts of consumption.
In the Americas, the type of rock that received the most extensive horizontal and vertical
circulation was jadeitite. This type of rock has been found in archaeological deposits that
span from northern Mexico to Colombia and the Antilles, in contexts that date from 1500
BC in the Olmec region all the way to the contact period.
Jadeitite derives its name from the word jade, which itself is derivative from the name
recorded in 1565 by Nicolás Monardes - piedra de yjada - for making reference to a highly
valued type of rock used to treat colics among the Aztec (Foshag and Leslie 1955; Harlow
et al. 2007; Howard 2002). In addition to its curative qualities, the reasons for the importance of this type of rock varied markedly in time and space. For instance, jadeitite has
been deemed to embody significations such as water or maize (i.e. fertility) for the Maya
while among the Olmec it was revered because of its relation to the serpent cult (Taube et
al. 2004). Even today, the appeal of jadeitite continues to be manifested as, for example,
through its use as the state and provincial gemstone of Alaska and British Columbia respectively and its employment to calm wrecked nerves in New Age therapy. Whole museums
have been devoted to the study and display of artefacts made of this type of raw material,
again underlining its salience both in the past and the present.
The significance placed on this type of rock has promoted it to be one of the best researched raw materials found in archaeological sites worldwide. Until recently, the available evidence indicated that primary deposits of jadeitite occurred in only two sources in
the Americas: one in California and another in the Motagua Fault Zone in Guatemala. Of
these, the Guatemalan source has received the most attention, since it has been deemed
as the context from which most, if not all, of the jadeitite found in Mesoamerican and
Isthmo-Colombian sites was obtained. However, the recent finding of Antillean jadeitite
sources, particularly in Cuba and Hispaniola, demands that we reassess the vectors of distribution of this raw material in both the insular and continental Caribbean. In this work,
I will evaluate the implications that the finding of jadeitite sources in the Antilles has for
the understanding of pan-regional dynamics of the distribution of this raw material across
the Caribbeanscape.

The sources of jadeitite
Jadeitite is a metamorphic rock composed primarily of the mineral jadeite, which occurs
in serpentine-matrix mélanges that form at high high-pressure/low low-temperature in subduction environments from hydrothermal fluids released during dehydration of the altered
oceanic crust (Harlow et al. 2006, 2007, 2010; Sorensen et al. 2006). Jadeitite (or jadeite

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jade) is differentiated from its close relative, nephrite jade, by the fact that the former is
composed mostly of jadeite pyroxene while the latter mainly contains felted tremolite-actinolite. Nephrite jade forms under different petrogenetic conditions (Harlow et al. 2007)
and has a lower specific gravity and refractive index than jadeitite. It is also softer and of
more limited chromatic variation.
Due to the particular conditions required for the formation of jadeitite, until recently
only twelve occurrences of this raw material had been identified worldwide (Harlow and
Sorensen 2005). Of these, only two sources of jadeitite had been documented in the Western
Hemisphere: one located in the New Idria serpentinite, San Benito Co., California, associated with the San Andreas Fault, and another situated in central Guatemala adjacent to the
Motagua Fault Zone (MFZ). The Guatemalan source is one of the largest jadeitite bearing
areas in the world, extending for more than 200 km in lateral extent. It presents palpable
differences both to the north and south of the MFZ, allowing researchers to discriminate
with high degrees of resolution their provenance from either of those two areas (Harlow et
al. 2006, 2010). While the jadeitite found to the north of the MFZ contains albite, analcime, and white mica as important constituents, the one that occurs south of the MFZ also
contains rutile, lawsonite, and quartz, which are essentially absent in the northern source.
It is this southern occurrence the one argued as the most probable provenance for the jadeitite used for the manufacture of the celts found in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and
Antigua (Harlow et al. 2006, 2007), as will be discussed below.
It should be noted, however, that not everyone has agreed on the existence of a single
jadeitite source in Central America. Bishop and Lange (1993) have argued that the composition of the jadeitite artefacts found in Lower Central American contexts are not consistent with that of Motaguan materials, thus proposing that there is a source somewhere in
Costa Rica yet to be discovered. However, Harlow (1993) has argued that not only were
the geological conditions appropriate for the formation of jadeitite not present in Central
America except the Motagua Fault Zone, but also that the composition of Motaguan jadeitites is sufficiently variable to encompass the jadeitite materials found in Costa Rican
archaeological contexts.
Aside from the Central American jadeitites, no other source of this raw material had
been documented in the Americas. However, recent research conducted by geological teams
from Europe, the Antilles, and the United States has recently documented jadeitite occurrences in the insular Caribbean, particularly in northern Hispaniola and in the far east of
Cuba, all of which seem to be geologically correlated to the Cretaceous high-pressure complexes of Central Guatemala (García Casco et al. 2009a). The Hispaniolan jadeitite occurrence is located in a serpentinite mélange formed in a subduction channel located in northern Dominican Republic, west of Samaná, that forms part of the Rio San Juan complex
(Schertl et al. 2007). Jadeitites are found in this source both as lenses or blocks and as veins
within laswsonite-bluechist blocks (Baese et al. 2010). These vary white to green in colour
and, in addition to jadeite (more than 90% per volume) also contain as minor constituents
quartz, pumpellyte, omphacite, and lawsonite, among others (Baese et al. 2007). Evidence
of jadeitite has also been uncovered in Cuba in one main source. It is located on the eastern
portion of the island in Sierra del Convento (Cárdenas Párraga et al. 2010; García-Casco et
al. 2009a). In this source area, jadeitite objective pieces have been found in gravel bars and
channels as well as in the mouths of the Macambo and Guardarraya rivers. The jadeitite
here was formed at higher temperature than typically interpreted for jadeitite formation

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but still in the context of serpentinite matrix mélange (García Casco et al. 2009a). Jadeitite
occurs as in-situ deposits, detrital boulders, and secondary materials transported by highenergy fluvial systems in four different areas of this subduction mélange (Cárdenas Párraga
2010). Analysed samples indicate that the jadeitite of talisman-quality is of a light green
colour, “being formed by 95% pyroxene (jade ± omphacite) and albite, phlogopite and
epidote (about 5%)” (Cárdenas Párraga 2010:202). Other components include white mica,
apatite, quartz, dolomite, and chlorite. There is also a darker and more heterogeneous variety of jadeitite in this mélange, with more chromatic variation (from greenish white to
dark green), also containing epidote and albite in larger amounts. The presence of jadeitite
in the Cretacous subduction complex of Escambray, in south-central Cuba, has been suggested but no confirmation of its occurrence in that high-pressure accretionary body has
been provided (García Casco et al. 2009a).
It should be noted, however, that the evidence available is still incomplete, as new potential sources are likely to be found in other circum-Caribbean regions where geological
conditions make feasible the formation of this type of rock. For instance, Garcia Casco
et al. (2009b) have identified other potential jadeitite occurrences in Margarita Island,
Villa del Cura in north-central Venezuela, and the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia, none
of which has been studied in detail. In Puerto Rico, the only potential source of this raw
material cited in the geological literature is located deep underwater in the Puerto Rico
trench, making it a very improbable source of humanly exploited raw material. The other
potential occurrence is situated in the south-western part of Puerto Rico, in association to
the Sierra Bermeja, Monte del Estado, and Rio Guanajibo serpentinite belts. Due to the
fact that most of these serpentinites have been found within low pressure ophiolite bodies
rather than in mélanges, it has been deemed that this region is an unlikely candidate for the
presence of high-pressure blocks of jadeitite (Harlow 2010 and A. García Casco, personal
communication).

Characterization studies of jadeitite in the Antilles
Recent research on Antillean pre-Colonial materials has documented the use of jadeitite for
the production of personal adornments and bifacial ground stone tools in various islands.
Although the employment of this raw material for artefact manufacture had been proposed since the early twentieth century in the Antilles (e.g. Harrington [1924] and Smith
[1954]), it has not been until the last decades that characterization studies have been conducted in order to verify its identification with high degrees of resolution. This has been
problematic as it has led to the misidentification as jadeitite of many fine-grained greenish
rocks, particularly nephrite jades and serpentinites. In most cases, this has resulted in an
overemphasis of the quantity of jadeitite artefacts found in some archaeological contexts.
However, the pendulum has also swung in the opposite direction, as now we are beginning to identify new jadeitite pieces that had been previously mislabelled as other types of
raw materials or included into the catch-all “greenstone” category. This lack of recognition
of jadeitite might explain to an extent the absence in the archaeological literature of this
material in Cuba and Hispaniola, despite the finding of occurrences of this raw material
in those islands.
Although in association with the boom in Saladoid/Huecoid research in the insular
Caribbean (particularly in Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles) that has taken place in the
past three decades there has been an increase in emphasis in the detailed study of the semi-

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precious stones involved in long-distance exchange for lapidary production (Chanlatte
Baik and Narganes Storde 1983; Cody 1993; Murphy et al. 2000; Rodríguez López 1993;
Sued Badillo 1979; Watters 1997; Watters and Scaglion 1994), there has been a dearth of
characterization studies that have attempted to make fine-grained analyses of such raw materials. With few exceptions (e.g. Murphy et al. 2000) their identification and estimations
about their provenance have been mostly based on their macroscopic observations and
literature reviews. This is particularly problematic when considering that characterization
research on jadeitite has shown that, due to the inhomogeneous character of this type of
rock, whole rock analysis is of less utility for sourcing studies than the analysis of its minor
mineral constituents (Harlow et al. 2007; Seitz et al. 2001).
Fortunately, although petrographic and chemical analyses of rocks have been slow to arrive to the Antilles, in recent years characterization studies have become much more common. The earliest recorded documentation of jadeite artefacts using characterization techniques comes from Puerto Rico where x-ray studies where conducted by geologists from
the U.S. Geological Survey on several celt flakes and fragments (Smith 1954). Together
with measurements of their refractive index (which spanned from 1,662 to 1673), hardness
(7 in Moh’s scale), and specific gravity (3.32), the analysis of these artefacts demonstrated
that the raw material used in their production was jadeitite. In this study, the author argued
that if this raw material was not procured from a yet unidentified jadeitite occurrence associated to the serpentinite belt located on the south-western part of the island, these were
very likely “obtained from Costa Rica by the Arawaks or by the more adventurous Carib
tribes, either directly or by transference via the Yucatan Peninsula, southern United States,
or northern South America” (Smith 1954:26; translated by the author).
This study was followed more than three decades later in the Bahamas, where X-ray
diffraction (XRD) was applied on a celt associated to a context dated circa AD 1000 from
the Pigeon Creek site (Rose 1987). Although it was based on only one archaeological specimen, this analysis was of great importance since it led Rose to identify with precision the
petrographic signature of this type of raw material and to argue that it was very likely obtained from the aforementioned Motaguan source. Furthermore, the presence of jadeitite
on this site lends some support to de Booy’s (1914) early observations on the finding of this
raw material in several archaeological contexts of the Bahamas.
Although during the past couple of decades several characterization studies have been
conducted on lithic materials from the Antilles (e.g., Haviser 1999; Knippenberg 1999,
2006; Murphy et al. 2000; Rostain 1999), no detailed studies of jadeitite artefacts had
been undertaken until recently. The earliest of these recent jadeitite studies comprised the
analysis of ten celts and celt fragments unearthed by Reg Murphy and colleagues from
Saladoid contexts documented in Mill Reef and Elliot’s sites in Antigua. This study was
conducted by George Harlow of the American Museum of Natural History utilizing imaging and petrography, scanning-electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and electron microprobe chemical analysis (Harlow et al. 2006). The results of this study demonstrated that
the mineralogy (particularly the presence of quartz, phengite, lawsonite, and white-tan
mica) and texture of these bifacial ground tools more closely matched that of jadeitite from
Guatemala, in particular that found south of the MFZ, than they do that of jadeitite from
California or any of the other sources that had been identified at that time.

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These results were replicated in analyses conducted by Harlow on jadeitite artefacts
from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, x-ray diffraction studies on
materials from the sites of Punta Candelero, La Hueca-Sorcé, Río Tanamá, and Tecla I
showed the employment of jadeitite of similar composition to that identified in Antigua
for the production of six biconvex celts and one plano-convex adze (Harlow 2007; cited in
Rodríguez Ramos 2007, 2010a, see below). The sites from which these were obtained not
only indicate the widespread movement of this raw material in the island, but also show the
marked vertical extension of its circulation since it has been found in association to sites
that date between 450 BC and AD 1000.
Further testing on 36 artefacts (celts and personal adornments) from the Folmer
Andersen Collection from St. Croix was conducted by George Harlow with the use of
SEM and x-ray spectrometry (cited in Hardy 2008). The results of the analysis of the celts
were consistent with those of Puerto Rico and Antigua. One interesting aspect of this collection is that it contained 16 ornaments, six of which were of the batrachian variety so
conspicuous amongst Saladoid and Huecoid assemblages. In this analysis, none of these
personal adornments were identified as jadeitite. In fact, thus far there has been no characterization study corroborating archaeological identifications of jadeitite used for ornament
manufacture in the islands.
Although all of the aforementioned studies suggest a Central American origin for the
jadeitites found in Antillean archaeological sites, most of them also acknowledged the possibility that these were procured from yet undiscovered Greater Antillean sources of this
raw material. This is an important issue because the jadeitites found in Antillean archaeological collections have been argued to show some compositional concomitances with the
recently identified jadeitite materials from Cuba and Hispaniola. For instance, Schertl et
al. (2007: 10) indicate that there are marked similarities in both the mineral and fabric signatures between the Hispaniolan jadeitites and those found south of the MFZ. Particularly,
the co-occurrence of quartz, lawsonite, and pumpellyite together with jadeite identified in
the Hispaniolan occurrence has been deemed to correspond to what has also been observed
in sources south of the MFZ (Maresch et al. 2008). This, according to Baese et al. (2007),
may be pinpointing a Hispaniolan rather than a Guatemalan origin for the Antillean jadeitite materials.
The Antillean derivation of the jadeitites found in Greater Antillean sites was also proposed by García Casco et al. (2009b) on the basis of the analysis of materials from Cuba.
They argued that “the rare occurrence of quartz in Antiguan jade and some Guatemalan
samples (in addition to phengite, lawsonite, and glaucophane) indicated by Harlow et al.
(2006) cannot be taken as diagnostic because similar quartz-bearing jadeitites are present
in the Rio San Juan and Sierra del Convento mélanges.” However, Harlow et al. (2009) are
still of the impression that the jadeitite artefacts that he has identified from Puerto Rico,
the Virgin Islands, and Antigua have a Motaguan origin and more characterization research
on materials from the Antilles is currently being undertaken in order to develop criteria for
source discrimination with higher degrees of resolution.
It is evident from the previous discussion that, at present, the available geological data
is not fine-grained enough to itself resolve the issue of jadeitite distribution in the Antilles.
I will now turn to the archaeological evidence regarding the use of this raw material in the
Antilles and surrounding continents, as it may prove very important to decipher the dynamics of circulation of this raw material in the Greater Caribbean.

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Technological, stylistic, and contextual considerations
The archaeological evidence available may be a very useful complement to geological information to at least begin narrowing down the potential sources of the jadeitites found in
pre-Colonial contexts in the islands. Particularly, the analysis of the consumption contexts,
technological styles, and iconographic themes objectified in this type of material may shed
some light into the probable areas from which the jadeitite found in Antillean archaeological contexts was most likely being procured through time.
The contextual information available thus far indicates that the earliest evidence for
the consumption of jadeitite in the Antilles dates to the contexts dated between 500 BC
and AD 500/700, which form part of what I have termed the Iridescent Period (Rodríguez
Ramos 2010b). This period is characterized by the emphasis on the long-distance circulation of shiny personal adornments made of semi-precious stones and greenstone celts.
The Antillean Iridescent Period corresponds temporally to the widespread distribution of
Motaguan jadeitite between Guatemala and Costa Rica in association to what Guerrero
Miranda (1993) labelled the Initial and Florescent Periods (500 BC to AD 700). Jadeitite
artefacts uncovered from Huecoid and Saladoid contexts dating to this period unearthed
from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Antigua have been analysed in detail by Harlow
(2006, 2007) who, as previously noted, has argued that the most probable source for those
artefacts is the Motagua River Valley in Guatemala.
Further support for the Motaguan provenance of jadeitities during this period comes
from the fact that there is no evidence at this time of Huecoid or Saladoid contexts anywhere in Cuba or Hispaniola, nor is there any indication of the contemporaneous consumption of jadeitite by the pre-Arawak inhabitants of those islands. Therefore, at present,
there is no archaeological support for the local exploitation or the extra-island distribution
of jadeitite from Cuba or Hispaniola to Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles before AD
700 (the earliest date for the El Cabo site in the Dominican Republic where jadeitite celts
have recently been identified; Samson 2010). Thus, the available negative archaeological
evidence lends credence to Harlow’s (2006, 2007) arguments for a Motaguan origin of the
jadeitite found in the Antilles during this Iridescent period.
This, however, does not totally rule out a possible early interaction sphere within which
jadeitite might have been moved east from Cuba or Hispaniola. In fact, we have argued
for the existence of a “west to east influence corridor” during this time (Rodríguez Ramos
2001), which encompassed early interaction networks between Huecoid/Saladoid groups
in Puerto Rico and pre-Arawak groups from Cuba and Hispaniola. These interactions led
to the eastward movement of materials like chert blades and the negotiation of technological traditions such as the centripetal core reduction observed in Huecoid sites from
Puerto Rico, both of which have been documented in pre-Arawak contexts in both Cuba
and Hispaniola. Although this might be a very interesting possibility, at this point there
is no confirming archaeological evidence that jadeitite was also transacted between Cuba/
Hispaniola and Puerto Rico/Lesser Antilles in these early interaction spheres prior to AD
700.
Other lines of evidence that seems to point to a Motaguan origin for jadeitites found
in the islands during this Iridescent period come from the stylistic and technological parallels noted between the personal adornments and celts produced at this time in the Antilles
and Lower Central America, most notably in Costa Rica. Thus far, the earliest evidence for
jadeitite celts available in the Antilles comes from the Huecoid context of Punta Candelero

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in Puerto Rico, as well as from Saladoid contexts associated to white on red pottery from
Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and Antigua. The widespread movement of jadeitite for celt production during this period is related to the circulation of other raw materials between the
Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico for celt making, which include cherty carbonate from St.
Martin (Knippenberg 2006) and serpentinite (Rodríguez Ramos 2007, 2010a). Neither
the production of petaloid celts nor the presence of either serpentinite or cherty carbonate has been documented in archaeological contexts west of Puerto Rico prior to AD 700,
which seems to indicate that the inhabitants of Hispaniola and Cuba were not involved in
these long-distance celt exchange networks.
A salient element of this celt production and distribution process during this time is
the manufacture of the plano-convex adze associated exclusively to Saladoid contexts of
Puerto Rico. Due to its association to mortuary practices and its lack of use traces at the
macroscopic level, the plano-convex adze has commonly been considered to be manufactured for non-utilitarian activities (Rodríguez Ramos 2001, 2007; Siegel 1992). The evidence available thus far indicates that the production of this type of tool is not only absent
in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, but also in Saladoid and Huecoid contexts of the
Lesser Antilles and north-eastern South America. Interestingly enough, the production
of plano-convex adzes is commonly observed between Costa Rica and Guatemala during
this period. Particularly in Costa Rica, these are found without decorations, as pendants,
or depicting the axe-god motif (Guerrero Miranda 1993). The fact that one of the bifacial
ground stone tools of purported Motaguan jadeitite found in Puerto Rico is a plano-convex adze again seems to pinpoint to a Central American provenance of this raw material
during this period.
Further support for a Central American origin of the jadeitite found in Antillean contexts comes from the iconography embodied in some of the personal adornments produced
during this Iridescent period in the Antilles and Lower Central America. Although, at
present, no characterization studies have been undertaken with lapidary artefacts made of
jadeitite, we are currently conducting such analyses in order to ascertain their petrologic

Figure 1 Themes objectified in personal adornments in Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles (a, beak
bird, La Hueca-Sorcé; b, reptilian, La Hueca-Sorcé; c, curly-tailed, Tecla 1; d, squatted, Tecla 1; e, frogshaped, La Hueca-Sorcé; f, batrachian, La Hueca-Sorcé; g, winged, La Hueca-Sorcé; h, axe-god, Antigua
(modified from Chanlatte Baik and Narganes Storde 2005, 2005; Murphy 2005).

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signature and identify their likely source(s). Despite this limitation, there are other materials that played overlapping symbolic roles with jadeitite, collectively known as “social
jades” (Guerrero Miranda 1993; Lange 1993) that were used in the Puerto Rico and the
Lesser Antilles in order to objectify an assemblage of themes of macro-regional significance,
while not being found thus far in either Cuba, Hispaniola or north-eastern South America
during this time (before AD 500/700). Among the most conspicuous of these themes in
both the Antilles and the Isthmo-Colombian area are those embodied by the beak-birds
pendants, winged motifs, curly-tailed emblems, reptilian images, axe-gods amulets, and
batrachian-shaped adornments (Figure 1).
Of these, the most salient one is the beak-bird motif depicted by a raptorial bird with
either a deformed human head or an animal clasped in its claws, observed primarily in
Huecoid contexts in Puerto Rico and Vieques. As noted elsewhere (Rodríguez Ramos
2007, 2010a; Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006), these present marked similarities with jadeitite beak-bird pendants recovered from contemporaneous contexts of the
Caribbean Watershed of Costa Rica. As is the case in Costa Rica, many Antillean researchers have identified this ornitomorphic icon as representing a king vulture (e.g., Allaire
1999; Boomert 2000). However, as has been discussed with Julio Sánchez (2010 personal
communication), ornithologist of the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, the anatomical features of the birds depicted in the Huecoid pendants are indeed indicative of condors, as
had been argued by Chanlatte Baik and Narganes Storde (1983, 2005). This ornithologist
notes that morphological elements such as the location of the carbuncle, the protuberance
of their dorsal sides, and the clear presence of sexual dimorphism are apparent morphological indicators of this raptorial bird.
Furthermore, the fact that in the Huecoid specimens the bird is carrying a body in their
claws supports such identification since the king vulture has weak feet and short claws, so
they tend to feed standing over the carrion. This perhaps is why the king vultures depicted
in Costa Rican lapidary work have their beaks connected to their preys, very likely indicating an act of feeding, while the ones from Huecoid contexts have them clasped in their
claws, which seems to be denoting an act of flight. Whether this schematized animal representation objectifies different interpretations of a myth using different but related animals
(i.e., a vulture cult; see Benson 1997) as has been documented in the Antilles (“mythic
substitution” from jaguars to dogs; Rodríguez López 1997; Roe 1995) or different parts of
a mythical narrative, among other possible interpretations, is an issue worth exploring further. Moreover, the importance of analyzing in more detail the symbolising of this icon becomes more apparent when considering that the condor is nowhere present in the Antilles
or north-eastern South America, which indicates that it might represent some totemic
image that served to associate the performers of this Huecoid tradition to an ancestral location in the lower Isthmo-Colombian area. This Isthmo-Antillean relationship is also indicated by the fact that, as is the case of Costa Rican specimens, the negative spaces within
the Huecoid beak-bird pendants are produced with the use of string sawing. Interestingly,
this technique has only been documented in contemporaneous contexts to those of Puerto
Rico in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and south-eastern United States.
Another of the themes observed in the Antilles at this time, which forms an integral
part of Costa Rican iconography, is the axe-god motif. In Costa Rica, this motif is made
exclusively over jadeitite obtained from the MFZ. It usually depicts an avian or an anthropomorphic image whose head is invariably located in the proximal section of plano-convex

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adze-shaped objective pieces. In the Antilles, a piece that echoes stylistically this axe-god
theme was found in the Mill Reef site in Antigua made out of what has been identified as
nephrite jade (Figure 1h). Interestingly, the Antiguan axe-god pendant has its figurative
portion surmounted towards it proximal end, thus perhaps indicating some sort of inverted
iconography in comparison with Costa Rican specimens. As is the case in the Costa Rican
exemplars, the one from Antigua was drilled transversely for suspension, which showcases
another very particular technological element shared between these areas.
This use of transverse incision has also been observed in the production of batrachianshaped amulets from Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antilles that are conceptually similar to
those of Costa Rica and Panama, while being absent in Cuba and Hispaniola at this time
(see Rodríguez Ramos 2010a, 2011 for detailed comparisons). This is also the case for the
other themes objectified in Saladoid and Huecoid lapidary artwork in Puerto Rico and the
Lesser Antilles (curly-tailed motifs, winged pendants, and reptilian images). The absence
of artefacts indicative of the participation of the inhabitants of Cuba and Hispaniola in
the pan-regional negotiation of this symbolic repertoire is very important because it again
indicates their lack of integration in the social networks within which these themes were
circulated and consumed during this time.
In sum, the available iconographic, contextual, and technological evidence indicates
that jadeitites used in Antillean contexts prior to AD 500/700 were not likely obtained
from Cuba or Hispaniola, but rather from the MFZ, as has been argued by Harlow (2007;
Harlow et al. 2006). However, the picture becomes more complicated after AD 700, when
jadeitite artefacts begin to be found in Hispaniola and, eventually, in Cuba. This coincides temporally with the interruption in the pan-regional networks within which jade
(both jadeitite and social jade) used in lapidary production was circulated in Costa Rica,
Puerto Rico, and the Lesser Antilles, which in the insular Caribbean marks the onset of
what I have termed the Nucleation Period (Rodríguez Ramos 2010b). While in Lower
Central America this seems to be related to a shift from the circulation of jadeitite to the
widespread movement of gold-copper alloys (tumbaga or guanín), in the Antilles the shift
seems to be focused on the production and distribution of wood artwork as is evidenced
by accompanying shifts in lithic technologies (Rodríguez Ramos 2010b.). Although the
distribution of lapidary materials made over semi-precious stones drastically declines at
this time, the long-distance movement of celts made of jadeitite continues to be of marked
importance in the Antilles.
It is after AD 700 that the earliest evidences of jadeitite use have been uncovered from
Hispaniola and Cuba. The earliest context where jadeitite has been identified by trained
geologists in either of those two islands has been that from the site of El Cabo, located
in eastern Dominican Republic, which dates between AD 700 and 1500 (Samson 2010).
Studies are currently under way to determine if the jadeitites used for these celts are from
the local Hispaniolan source or were imported from outside the island (either from Cuba or
the MFZ). The use of jadeitite for the production of celts has also been observed in eastern
Cuba in association to “Taíno” contexts that likely date post-AD 1000. Studies conducted
by Mendoza et al. (2009) have indicated that the jadeitite employed in the production of
these materials was obtained from the Sierra del Convento region, thus demonstrating the
beginnings of the exploitation of this raw material during this time in that island.

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After AD 500/700 the macro-regional circulation of jadeitite celts intensifies in Puerto
Rico and also extends farther into the Lesser Antilles as well as into the Bahamas (after AD
850). In Puerto Rico, detailed studies corroborating the import of jadeitite celts dating
to this period have been conducted by Harlow (2007) on materials from Rio Tanamá. An
inspection of the archaeological collections housed at the Museo de Historia, Antropología
y Arte of the Universidad de Puerto Rico has shown that the use of jadeitite for celt production in Puerto Rico during this time is much more conspicuous than previously thought, as
these seem to be found in most collections, albeit in small numbers in each of them (Figure
2). This increase in emphasis in the consumption of jadeitite celts in Puerto Rico coincides
with an interruption of the distribution of cherty carbonate celts from St. Martin to the
island as well and of serpentinite celts and axes. In the Lesser Antilles, however, cherty carbonate celts continued to circulate east of St. Martin together with jadeitite celts that were
likely moved down the island chain in a west to east axis. Jadeitite celts have been identified (based on visual inspections) in Coakley Bay and Estate Adrian in St. Croix, Estate
Anguilla in St. Johns, Golden Rock in St. Eustatius, Forest North in Anguilla, Kelby’s
Ridge in Saba, Anse à la Gourde in Guadeloupe, and several other islands, going all the
way down to sites near Balembouche in St. Lucia. Interestingly, in all of these locations, the
available evidence also indicates that this raw material constituted a rather small portion of
the celt assemblages. This scarcity of jadeitites in the overall composition of the collections,
together with the fact the ideological load usually imbued to this raw material, might be
indicating its continued use in ceremonial exchange as had been argued by Boomert (1987)
for the circulation of greenstones in the northern Amazon. Its numinous qualities are evi-

Figure 2 Jadeitite celts from Puerto Rico (Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte,
Universidad de Puerto Rico).

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denced by the finding of two jadeitite petaloid celts placed as offering in a burial context
in the Monserrate site in eastern Puerto Rico.
At this point it is unclear if the jadeitite found in Puerto Rico and Lesser Antillean
archaeological contexts at this time was obtained from the MFZ and/or from any of the
sources identified in either Cuba or Hispaniola. However, the archaeological evidence indicates that it is very likely that after AD 700 there is an increase in emphasis in the Antilles
in the consumption of jadeitite celts obtained from Cuba and Hispaniola, as suggested by
the aforementioned decline in the pan-regional circuits that promoted the long-distance
circulation of jadeitite south of the MFZ. This does not mean that the import of Motagua
jadeitite completely ceased, but that the local sources likely became increasingly important
through time in the Antilles. After AD 850, Cuban and/or Hispaniolan jadeitite was moved
north into the Bahamas together with other materials recovered from archaeological contexts that purportedly were obtained from those islands (Berman 2000; Keegan 1992).
After AD 1000, the role of celts in the articulation of superstructural traditions of panregional significance seems to have become particularly relevant in the Antilles. After this
time, celts become highly elaborated, most notably those petaloid in shape recovered from
Greater Antillean contexts, which present morphologies unlike any other celts observed
in the circum-Caribbean region (Figure 3). These petaloid celts are characterized by high

Figure 3 Petaloid celts, Paso del Indio, Puerto Rico.

128

communities in contact

degrees of burnishing, a type of termination that seem to have more to do with their aesthetic qualities (i.e., shininess) than their functionality (see Rodríguez Ramos 2001 for a
discussion on this issue).
The rather conservative manufacturing guidelines that seem to have been followed in
the production trajectories of these celts in different islands serve as an indicator of the ideological integration that took place between the participants in the articulation of the late
pre-Colonial symbolic reservoir which I have called “Taínoness” (Rodríguez Ramos 2007,
2010a). The routinization of the tenets of this superstructural mosaic not only involved
the creation of formalized ritual spaces (i.e. bateyes) in the Greater Antilles, but also the
production of ritual paraphernalia for public display that included monolithic and decorated axes, stone and wooden duhos, stone belts, and elbow stones made of locally available
materials. All of these artefacts embody a symbolic code that seems to become increasingly
antilleanized during the late pre-Colonial history of the islands (see Hofman et al. 2007;
Oliver 2009). Concomitant with this, there seems to be a decrease in intensity in the longdistance distribution of jadeitite east of the Dominican Republic. Perhaps, this illustrates a
ritual realignment in which the ideological capital carried by jadeitite in earlier times gave
way to a more intense reliance on the symbolic grammar that objectified the tenets of the
aforementioned spectrum of “Taínoness,” which was variably negotiated by the inhabitants
of the Greater and the Lesser Antilles.
This antilleanization of superstructural traditions, however, does not mean that contacts with Lower Central America that might have promoted the import of jadeitite, among
other materials, from that area completely ceased. In fact, there are clear indicators of
Isthmo-Antillean contacts, as is for instance expressed by the import of guanín or tumbaga,
whose production was limited to the Isthmo-Colombian area and Mesoamerica at this
time. Other artefacts such as the tripod metates with decorated panels quite similar to those
recovered from Costa Rican contexts have been obtained from sites in the Greater Antilles.
This, together with many other lines of information (see Rodríguez Ramos 2007, 2010a,
2011 and Rodríguez Ramos and Pagán Jiménez 2006 for a detailed discussion), shows the
continued existence of pan-regional communities of practice articulated by maritime webs
of social traffic during the late pre-Colonial history of the Greater Caribbean.

Concluding remarks
As has been made evident throughout this work, jadeitite was a raw material of vast importance for the societies that inhabited both the insular and the continental Caribbean.
Although its meaning, significance, and the vectors of its distribution seem to have varied through time and space, this raw material remained as a highly valued commodity for
around 3000 years in the Greater Caribbean.
The recent finding of the Antillean sources of jadeitite opens a whole new avenue of
research regarding the mechanics of distribution of this raw material at both the local
and pan-regional levels. Although were are still not at a point to make definitive statements regarding the dynamics of circulation of jadeitite in the insular and the continental
Caribbean, in this work I have attempted to present some insights into what the archaeological evidence available seems to be pointing to. On the basis of contextual, iconographic, and technological evidence, I have argued that the jadeitite found in Antillean contexts
that pre-date AD 500/700 has a Motaguan origin as argued by Harlow et al. (2006) on
the basis of characterization studies. I have also suggested that the picture becomes more

Rodríguez Ramos

129

blurred after AD 500/700, when it seems that the Antillean sources of jadeitite come into
the mix and become inserted into previously delineated interaction networks that extended
between the Greater and the Lesser Antilles, as well as with the continental Caribbean. The
long-distance circulation of jadeitite seems to decline after AD 1000 east of the Dominican
Republic, when other types of meta-volcanic rocks were used in the production of highly
elaborated celts and other types of lithic sumptuary artefacts.
Although I have mostly circumscribed the present discussion to the circulation of jadeitite, it is evident that the distribution of this raw material should not be seen in a vacuum.
This is particularly the case when considering the information that is being generated from
the study of metallurgical, botanical, malacological, and ceramic materials, all of which indicates the existence of multiple intersecting maritime networks that were articulated across
the Caribbeanscape in which raw materials, finished products, information, symbols, and
esoteric knowledge were being circulated across geographic and cultural frontiers.
Some of these interactions seem to have entailed engagements between peoples from
the insular and the continental Caribbean. This raises the question of the possible Antillean
origin of some of the jadeitite raw materials that have been found in Costa Rica and
Mesoamerica, which might to an extent help to explain the variability that has been noted
by Bishop and Lange (1993) in Lower Central American collections. The fact that there
are products from the Antilles in the Isthmo-Colombian region is to be expected, since
long-distance transactions tend to be reciprocal in nature (Renfrew 1986; Stein 1998).
This makes evident that further studies are needed in both the insular and the continental
Caribbean in order to determine with higher degrees of resolution the vectors of distribution of this raw material, which may allow us to begin unravelling the nature of the millenary interactions that took place across the Caribbeanscape.

Acknowledgements
I want to thank George Harlow, Antonio García Casco, Pablo Llerandi, Jaime Pagán
Jiménez, and Sebastiaan Knippenberg for their comments on the research hereby presented. Thanks also go to Omar Ortiz for making the drawings included in this article and
his overall help with all my archaeological endeavors. Finally, I want to thank Corinne
Hofman for her support of this research, which is being conducted as part of the project
“Communicating Communities” funded with a grant from the Netherlands Organisation
for Scientific Research.

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‘T his

relic of antiquity’

Fifth to fifteenth century wood carvings from 
the southern Lesser Antilles

Joanna Ostapkowicz, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Alex C. Wiedenhoeft,
Fiona Brock, Tom Higham, and Samuel M. Wilson

The results of AMS dating and wood identification on three carvings recovered from the
southern Lesser Antilles (Dominica, Battowia and Trinidad) are discussed, placing the objects in the context of events and interactions that spanned the region’s prehistory from
the fifth to fifteenth centuries AD. Each hints at a rich legacy – of their passage through
the hands of those who invested in them (whether through making, using, trading, collecting or displaying them) in a process that sometimes covers vast geographical and cultural
distances. They reflect the social dynamics and fluid interconnections between Caribbean
peoples – and between people and objects – that bound the region in a praxis of materiality, mobility and exchange.
Se discuten los resultados de fechamiento por medio de Espectometría de Masas (E.M.) y
la identificación de especies de madera de tres objetos tallados, recuperados en el sur de las
Antillas Menores (Dominica, Battowia y Trinidad), así colocando dichos objetos en el contexto cronológico de eventos y interacciones conocidos de la prehistoria regional (Siglos V
hasta XV). El trabajo expone sobre la importancia de revisar colecciones museográficos, de
estudiar no unicamente las historias recientes de recopilación y conservación, sino historias
profundas de objetos - contexto original, uso y valor. La procedencia documentada en los
registros de adhesión con frecuencia oculta historias ricas de artefactos - su paso por las
manos de aquellos que invirtieron en ellos (ya sea a través de su tallado, utilización, comercialización, recopilación o su exhibición) mediante un proceso que a veces cubre extensas
distancias culturales y geográficas.
Nous traitons dans cet article des résultats des datations AMS et de l’identification du bois
opérées sur trois gravures retrouvées dans les Petites Antilles méridionales (Dominique,
Battowia et Trinidad), qui permettent de replacer ces objets dans le contexte chronologique
des évènements et des interactions qui se sont déroulés durant la période préhistorique de
la région, du Ve au XVe siècle. Cet article explore l’importance de revoir les collections de
musée, d’étudier non seulement les histoires récentes de collection et de conservation, mais
aussi l’historique plus approfondi de l’objet, son contexte d’origine, son usage et sa valeur.
La provenance visible dans les registres d’accession masque souvent la richesse du legs des
artefacts, leur passage dans les mains de ceux qui ont investi en eux, (soit en les fabriquant,
en les utilisant, en les échangeant, en les collectionnant ou en les distribuant) dans un processus qui couvre parfois de vastes distances culturelles et géographiques.

Ostapkowicz et al.

137

Figure 1 Turtle carving/snuff tube, Guaiacum sp., resin inlays, white pigment, AD 1160-1258
(combined resin and wood dates). L: 102 mm; W: 57 mm; H: 33 mm. Catalogue number A345420, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, D.C., US.

In 1878, after scrambling 300 feet up a steep mountain slope on the island of Battowia,
off the coast of St Vincent, the historian Frederick Ober discovered a small wooden carving (Figure 1):
…I groped among the loose fragments of stone near the mouth [of a cave], where, one of the men
told me, an Indian chair had been found some fifteen years before. Carefully displacing the stone chippings, I at last found what seemed to be an image of stone; but scraping with a knife revealed that
it was of wood. It was a tortoise, four inches long and two and one-half broad, curiously carved….
This relic of antiquity was undoubtedly taken by the Caribs from their enemies of Haiti, and brought here by the captor, or it may have belonged to a captive Arowak [sic] living among the Caribs
Ober (1880:222; 224)

Ober’s last sentence, although written over a century ago and clearly a product of the
long-standing Columbian propaganda that polarized the region’s cultures along stereotypical extremes of ‘war-like Caribs’ and ‘docile, peaceful Arawaks/Taíno’, foreshadowed current investigations into the extent and nature of interaction between the peoples of the
Greater and Lesser Antilles (e.g., Hofman et al. 2007, 2008; Hofman and Hoogland 2004;
Hoogland and Hofman 1993, 1999). To Ober’s eyes, the turtle carving was clearly foreign
to Battowia – he viewed it as a zemi (cemí) that was either raided or belonged to a non-local ‘captive’. This attribution was based on his knowledge of comparable material recovered 

These general divisions (Carib/Taíno) gloss over a great deal of cultural diversity – many societies and languages
are subsumed within these broad titles. The antagonistic history between the two ‘groups’ was emphasized by
early Spanish colonisers, though much for their own purposes, to justify enslavement and expansion. This has,
however, long overshadowed the peaceful interactions that undoubtedly also occurred – from exchange, to
political alliances to kin relationships binding different island communities together.

138

communities in contact

Greater Antilles
Lesser Antilles

Puerto Rico
US/British
Virgin Islands

N

St Martin
Barbuda

St Croix
St Kitts
Nevis

Leeward
Islands

Antigua
Guadaloupe
Montserrat

trade?
alliance?
marraige?
migration?

Dominica
Martinique

Style zone
AD 600/800-1200
and AD 1200-1492

a

C a r ibbea n

Se

Dominica duho
AD 1315-1427

St Lucia
St Vincent

Battowia turtle
snuff tube
AD 1160-1258

Grenada

Pitch Lake bench
AD 431-592

Barbados

Windward
Islands
Tobago
Trinidad

Style zone
AD 400-600/800
Artefacts not to scale with each other.

Figure 2 Distribution map showing the Dominica duho, Battowia turtle snuff tube and Pitch Lake
zoomorphic bench, and featuring style zones for provenance islands contemporary to the artefact periods (the latter redrawn from Hofman et al. 2007: Fig 6, 8-9). NB: other style zones were present during
the periods in question, but are not included here for ease of reference.

Ostapkowicz et al.

139

from the Greater Antilles, specifically the style of the piece and its apparent association
with an ‘Indian chair’ – the latter known to him from duhos described in cronista accounts
and antiquities he had seen from Puerto Rico (Ober 1880:223-224). Yet, at the time, little
was known – and to date, is known – about the wood carving styles of the Lesser Antillean
region, primarily because so few carvings survived, hence it is difficult to distinguish what
was made locally and what was imported on stylistic attributes alone. How, then, to investigate possible sources – whether local or foreign – for the unusual cache of objects in
Battowia, or for the other carvings found in the Lesser Antilles? And how to anchor these
chance-finds – void of archaeological context – within circum-Caribbean prehistory so that
they can inform on local developments, inter-island connections and/or shared practices
within this region?
This paper focuses on three carvings found in the Lesser Antilles: the Battowia turtle,
Dominica duho, and Pitch Lake (Trinidad) zoomorphic bench (Figure 2; Table 1). It summarizes new AMS radiocarbon and wood identification results, as well as iconographic
studies, which together enable assessments of stylistic attribution and chronological placement. Discussion proceeds from a review of the individual pieces to the wider implications
for understanding their histories, and through them the histories and interactions of their
owners.
Provenance/Institution

Material

OxA

Date BP

Cal AD (68.2%)

Cal AD (95.4%)

Pitch Lake zoomorphic bench, Trinidad
Peabody Museum of Anthropology
and Archaeology, New Haven145145

Wood (Andira
sp.); 54.11mg;
terminus

19174

1538 ± 29

437-489 (35%)
530-570 (33.2%)

AD 431-592 (95.4%)

Turtle snuff tube, Battowia
St Vincent National Museum of Natural
History, Washington A34542-0

Wood (Guaiacum
sp.); 2.99mg,
terminus

X-2345-50

775 ± 50

1219-1277 (68.2%)

AD 1159-1295 (95.4%)

Resin (results
pending) 2.41mg,
terminus

21893

862 ± 28

1161-1216 (68.2%)

AD 1050-1083 (9.9%)
AD 1124-1137 (2.4%)
AD 1151-1254 (83%)

Wood (Guaiacum
sp.), 58.24mg,
terminus

17917

556 ± 25

1326-1344 (27.6%)
1394-1416 (40.6%)

AD 1315-1356 (43.5%)
AD 1388-1427 (51.9%)

Dominica Duho, Dominica
Economic Botany Collections, Kew,
London EBC40669

Table 1 AMS radiocarbon and wood ID results for the Pitch Lake zoomorphic bench, Battowia turtle snuff tube and Dominica duho. The Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit lab numbers (OxA) are
provided alongside the sample sizes, the dates BP and calibrations at 68.4% and 95.4%. All dates were
calibrated using the IntCal09 dataset (Reimer et al. 2009) and OxCal v4.1.6. The most likely dates are
highlighted in bold in the 95.4% confidence column. 

To the small turtle carving can be added 17 other artefacts - a duho recovered from a cave on Dominica in 1860,
two small zoomorphic ornaments and a small bowl from Guadaloupe (the latter potentially a historic piece), a
figural carving and a possible weaving stick from Barbados, and at least 11 wooden artefacts from Pitch Lake
(two stools, four paddles, two weaving sticks, two bowls and a mortar (Bennel 2000:11; Boomert 2000:298-99,
307, 336, 399; Boomert and Harris 1984:34; Petitjean Roget 1995; Fewkes 1922:135). This excludes the house
posts recovered at the site of Tutu, St Thomas and Port St Charles (Heywoods), Barbados (Bennel 2000:111112). In contrast, the wooden corpus from the Greater Antilles numbers at least 300 pieces known in museum
and select private collections, and potentially thousands from the waterlogged sites of Los Buchillones, Cuba
and Manantial de La Aleta, Domincan Republic (Ostapkowicz 1998; Valcárcel Rojas et al. 2006; Conrad et al.
2001). Undoubtedly, other pieces with provenance to the Lesser Antilles will emerge with time – such as those
currently held in private collections.

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Project overview and methodologies
The three carvings discussed here form part of the ‘Pre-Hispanic Caribbean Sculptural Arts
in Wood’ project, funded by the Getty Foundation and the British Academy (2007-2010),
bringing together 66 wooden artefacts held in widely dispersed museum collections (20
institutions in eight countries). The study focused on older museum specimens selected
on the basis of their historical significance, good provenance (to island), wide-ranging distribution (both Greater and Lesser Antilles), and artefact type. This corpus was subjected
to AMS 14C dating, wood identification and select stable isotope analysis to establish firm
chronologies, determine material resource utilization and suggest or confirm provenance.
The wood identification of the Dominica duho was carried out during the course of a previous project supported by the Leverhulme Trust (2004-2006).
As establishing a chronology for each piece was at the core of the project and central
to its wider objectives (e.g., exploring stylistic variation within and between islands over
time), the 14C samples were critically targeted to ensure a date closest to the felling of the
tree, ideally sampling any remaining sapwood. Where this was not present, the carving
was oriented relative to its position in the original bole, and the sample extracted from the
extreme outer edge to achieve the same goal. This strategy is especially important for slowgrowing woods, which can be several centuries old at the pith as opposed to the sapwood.
The approach was further fine-tuned by sampling the resin used in inlays, where evident,
which should relate to the object’s final stages of manufacture or to periodic refurbishment.
In total, 90 dates were obtained for the project. The ultimate aim has been to integrate
the results into our current knowledge of Caribbean prehistory, which is largely based on
ceramic and stone technologies, and enhance our understanding of how wooden material
culture contributed to Caribbean lifeways.

Artefact selections: Pitch Lake zoomorphic bench
Trinidad’s Pitch Lake, one of the largest natural deposits of asphalt in the world, has yielded a minimum of 11 wooden artefacts, including a zoomorphic bench (Figure 4)( Boomert
2000:298-99, 336, 399; Boomert and Harris 1984:34-37). It was discovered between 1940
and 1950, when the lake was being dredged commercially, and donated to the Peabody
Museum of Natural History in 1952 by W. L. Kallman, director of the Trinidad Lake
Asphalt Company (Boomert and Harris 1984:34). Large encrustations of pitch still remain
on the legs and underside of the stool, while other areas appear to have been cleaned by a
sharp implement. This substantial, low bench, carved with a bulbous, zoomorphic head
at the front and a blunt, square ‘tail’ at the back – suggestive of a canid – differs stylistically from the duhos recovered in the rest of the Caribbean islands, including those of the
low-backed category to which it has some general parallels. The size, style and iconography has more in keeping with the seats still commonly used in the Orinoco delta and surrounding regions (compare against contemporary zoomorphic examples on figure 3; see
discussion).
Samples extracted from the stool for radiocarbon dating yielded the earliest currently
known date for a Caribbean seat – AD 431-592 (95.4% confidence)(Figure 5, Table 1).
The sample was taken from the outer edge of the left hind leg, as far as possible from the
pith area of the carved bole within the limitations of the carving. The wood was previously
identified as Mora (Chlorphora tinctoria), more commonly known as fustic, in 1953 by

Ostapkowicz et al.

141

Ca

ean
ir bb

Sea

Atl
an
ti c

O

an
ce

N

Pitch Lake bench
AD 431-592

Warrau, Guyana

Venezuela
Arawak, Guyana
Yekuana, Guyana
Venezuela
Kaliña, Surinam

Arecuna, Guyana

Surinam
Guyana

Río Uaupés
groups, Brazil
Artefacts not to scale with each other.

Emerillon, French
Guiana

Brazil

Figure 3 Distribution map of South American zoomorphic stools from the 19th to 20th centuries with
general similarities to the prehistoric Trinidad bench (low-back, presence of zoomorphic head, tail, etc.).
Stools redrawn from Roth (1924), Saville (1910) and Zerries (1970).

Arthur Koehler of the Department of Forestry, Yale University; however, it has been reidentified here by A. Wiedenhoeft as Andira sp. (Figure 6), a slow-growing genus, although
this in itself could not account for the age of the piece, especially given the sampling
strategy. The pitch is a possible factor, and although all sampling was done away from the
large areas of pitch still present on the object, it is probable that the residues were deeply
absorbed into the wood. Any date from an object with extensive contamination must
have some uncertainty associated with it. With this in mind, the chemical pre-treatment
was adjusted accordingly, and subjected to a solvent wash prior to the standard chemistry
for radiocarbon dating. In addition, a small sample of pitch removed from the bench was
subjected to the same solvent wash as the wood sample and dissolved easily in the chloroform, indicating that the pre-treatment was suitable for removing the pitch from the radio-

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carbon sample prior to dating. However, although this treatment should have removed
any traces of pitch, we must still be cautious
with the date until further studies can be
made (a thorough investigation of the pitch
contamination issue is the focus of a future
project). Experiments
���������������������������������
on porous substrates
deliberately contaminated with bitumen
show that residual contamination levels are
likely to be <0.2% (or <20 14C years).������
With
these caveats in mind, accepting this early
date for the stool would place it in the late
Cedrosan Saladoid period (AD 300/400 –
600/800), which in fact fits with the date
previously proposed by Boomert and Harris
(1984:38-39) for the group of artefacts recovered from Pitch Lake.

Battowia turtle snuff tube
Ober’s (1880:222, 224) fortuitous discovery
yielded not only the remarkable turtle carving (Figure 1) – which he donated to the
Smithsonian Institution in 1878 – but also
the knowledge that an ‘Indian chair’ (posFigure 4 Pitch Lake zoomorphic bench, Andira
sibly a duho) was previously recovered from sp., red pigment (?), AD 431-592. L: 572mm;
the same cave. If the turtle carving is any- W: 272mm (max); H: 200mm (max). Catalogue
thing to go by, this suggests a cache of at number ANT.145145, Peabody Museum of
least two, if not more, elaborately carved Natural History, New Haven, United States.
and possibly functionally related artefacts.
The purpose of this finely worked object has been a matter of some debate. Ober called it
a cemí, or idol, while Fewkes (1907:196) was more tentative: ‘[w]hether the image was an
idol or an amulet is not clearly determined, but the two ventro-dorsal perforations suggest that it was tied to or suspended from some other object, possibly attached to some
part of the human head or body or worn as an amulet’. Lovén (1979:591) concurs, noting
that early cronistas mentioned the Carib wearing small wooden figures around their necks.
Subsequent researchers have accepted the amulet identification (McGinnis 1997:401).
However, the emphasis placed on the two perforations – their central location, together
with their size and raised position above the turtle’s shell – would suggest a function beyond simple suspension holes, which could have been more easily drilled through the neck
or back flippers of the carving (most amulets have holes drilled through the sides, so that
the carving is viewed in full from the front). The position of the holes suggests a composite 

See also Hawtayne (1887:198), who mentions the discovery of the chair: ‘At Battewia [sic]… there is a large
cave in which a wooden seat or stool was discovered, and no doubt other relics might be obtained there’. In his
reconnaissance of private collections on the islands in 1912, Jesse W. Fewkes (National Anthropology Archives
4408:59a) noted that ‘Mr. Cropper had a duho from Battovia [sic] which he gave to [a] gentleman in England’,
although he could not trace its specific location further (Fewkes 1914:670).

Ostapkowicz et al.

143

Figure 5 Graphed calibration date (1538 ± 29) for the Pitch Lake zoomorphic bench.

Figure 6 Transverse section of Guaiacum sanctum (left) and Andira retusa (right). Though wood
identification is not definitive at the species level, the species presented here depict some of the characteristic cellular features seen in samples from the three Lesser Antillean artefacts. Images: A. Wiedenhoeft.

snuff tube, used in the Greater Antilles for the inhalation of cohoba (a hallucinogenic drug,
possibly involving Anadenanthera peregrina) – a practice described by the early cronistas
(Colón 1992:151, 157; Las Casas 1967:II 174; see Newsom and Wing 2004:143 on issues
surrounding the genus identification). Further, the distance between the two holes naturally fits the nostrils, the raised position of the holes enabling the placement of the carving
sufficiently away from the mouth for ease of use. This likely involved the use of short tubes,
bringing the narcotic substance directly into the inner nostrils (Ostapkowicz 1998:130).
If the turtle is indeed a composite snuff tube, its presence in the same cave together with
a duho could suggest that core elements of the standard Greater Antillean ‘cohoba kit’ were
present – which in turn raises the question of whether they were understood, and potentially utilised, as such in the Lesser Antilles, and if so, by whom (locals or immigrants/emissaries from the northern islands? – see discussion).

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Figure 7 Graphs showing calibrated results for Turtle snuff tube wood
(775 ± 50 BP) and resin (862 ± 28 BP) samples.

Figure 8 Graph showing combined results from resin and wood dates
for the Turtle Snuff Tube, at AD 1160-1258 (95.4%). T=2.3 (5% 3.8).

Ostapkowicz et al.

145

Two small samples were extracted from the snuff tube for AMS 14C dating: the wood
from the outer-most tip of the right front flipper and the resin from a recessed area in the
same location. The samples were necessarily very small due to the size of the object and its
importance. Although there was sufficient quantity of resin, the wood sample was minute
(2.79 mg yielded just 0.44 mg after pre-treatment) and - despite an acceptable yield of
50% C on combustion - had a low AMS target current which gave a higher standard error
than usual. In addition, resin is difficult to prepare and treat for dating as it is soluble in
many of the chemical pre-treatments that are routinely used; instead, where it remains in
good condition, its outer surface can be removed, so that only the inner material is submitted for dating. This was our approach with the resin sample removed from the turtle
carving (2.41mg): the outer surface was physically separated from the target material and
no chemical treatments were applied. This would give an added level of uncertainty on
the results, although both cross reference well, and are almost certainly accurate within
their wider ranges. The wood sample, identified here as Guaiacum sp. (Figure 6), yielded a
calibrated date of AD 1159-1295 (95.4% confidence), while the resin returned a result of
AD 1050-1254 (95.4% confidence)(Figure 7; Table 1). Within the latter range, the highest probability is AD 1151-1254 (83%), which overlaps very well with the wood date. The
two results can be combined to AD 1160-1258 (Figure 8)(χ2 = df=1, T=2.3 (5% 3.8)). This
suggests that the piece was likely carved and inlaid in a single process. Importantly, the
date does not inform on its subsequent use history: although carved by the mid-thirteenth
century, it may well have been a curated object, a valued heirloom passed down the generations or circulated through exchange networks over the course of its history. The date
places its manufacture and use in the Chican Ostionoid period in the Greater Antilles, on
the one hand, and the Suazan Troumassoid period and Cayo complex in the Windward
Islands, on the other – all roughly contemporaneous at AD 1200 (Petersen et al. 2004:28;
Rouse 1992:129-131; Boomert 2000:261).

Dominica duho
The Dominica duho (Figure 9) entered the Economic Botany Collection at Kew Gardens,
London in 1860. That year, John Imray (b. 1811, d. 1880), a doctor and botanist working
in Dominica between 1850 and 1870, wrote to Sir. William Hooker, then Director of Kew
Gardens, giving a brief account of the duho:
I send the carved image, or stool, or whatever it may be. I think I mentioned that it was found by a
negro boy in a cave among the woods of Dominica. There were some objects of the same description
which unfortunately I was unable to procure. The image is I think of Charaib [sic] workmanship. It
is evidently very old. From its weight it is made from some hard wood of this country. I almost think
Coubaril� [sic] (Imray
������� ���
to ��������
Hooker, ��9 ��������
January ������
1860, ����������
letter on �����
file ���
at �����
Kew, KLDC8823)
���������

Of interest here is the clear reference to the duho being found on the island, and the
presence of other carved objects ‘of the same description’, possibly suggesting other duhos,
in the cave. Although non-committal on the function of the carving, �����������������������
Imray does refer to it
as a stool, an identification echoed by Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, eminent curator of
Antiquities and Ethnography in the British Museum between 1866-1896, who described
the duho in one of his private note books (British Museum collections, LS16, ff.1). But at
some later point in the object’s history, it came to be identified as a metate, and the following label was attached on the underside, above the two hind legs: ‘Metatl [sic] or trough

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communities in contact

Figure 9 Dominica duho, Guaiacum sp., AD 1315-1427. L: 395mm, W: 154mm, H: 207mm. Catalogue
number EBC40669, Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.

made of the wood of Hymenaea Courbaril L. [sic] Used for rubbing down flour for making cakes. Used by Caribs: of unknown antiquity. Found in a Carib Cave in Dominica’.
Its actual function was thus obscured until 2001, when a researcher visited the collections
specifically to look at material from Dominica (Honeychurch 2001).
The carving is, in fact, a rare example of the anthropomorphic high-back duho style: it
joins only seven others known from the entire Caribbean (Ostapkowicz 1998: 188-191;
228-267). Anthropomorphic duhos feature a head at the upper end of the high back, with
the rest of the body conforming to the shape of the four legged seat: the chest, usually including skeletal imagery, and arms are carved on the upper surface of the backrest, with
the legs morphing into the stool’s front legs and male genitalia depicted at the front base.
The treatment of the design elements within the chest area and the top and back of the
head tends to be unique to each piece, although there are strong parallels in the motifs
featured within this group. In the Dominica duho, the treatment of the central triangular
design panel is complex, intriguingly featuring four appendages, each with four digits (suggestive of a creature) and flanked on either side by a series of six parallel lines, depicting
the ribs. This stylized treatment is in contrast to the arms, which appear more natural, the
flesh bulging around the tightly bound arm bands and creased at the elbows. The head,
too, is contoured, with high cheekbones, a fleshy nose, wide open mouth and angled eyes.
The combination of a corporeal body with skeletal imagery is a recurring theme in Chican
Ostionoid (AD 1200-1500) art, and is paralleled in several other anthropomorphic highbacks, the majority of which are provenanced to the Dominican Republic, suggesting that
it may have been a stylistic centre for this type of duho. The Dominica duho is comparable
to the Dominican Republic examples in other ways: this group consistently features large,
projecting front feet with protruding ankle bones and large eyes and mouths that tend to

Ostapkowicz et al.

147

Lluberes Duho
Dominican Republic
L: 410

Dominica Duho
Dominica
L:395

Boca de Yuma Duho
Dominican Republic
L: 425

Figure 10 Dominica duho (centre) and two examples of anthropomorphic high-backs from the Dominican
Republic (both in private collections), showing head panels and upper body designs. Duhos not to scale.
For further details about the two Dominican Republic duhos see Ostapkowicz 1998:245-249.

Figure 11 Graph showing the calibrated results for the Dominica duho
(556 ± 25 BP).

be shallowly carved, as if inlay was not required, or if included, was only an extremely thin
sliver of shell or guanín. There are, for example, strong parallels between the Dominica
and Lluberes (DR) duhos, on the one hand, in the complex treatment of the chest panel
designs, depiction of the ribs and the triangular cut-outs around the base of the noses, and
the Boca de Yuma (DR) duho, on the other, in the treatment of the head, each featuring
interconnected appendages showing four digits (Figure 10). Stable isotope analysis may be

148

communities in contact

able to suggest a provenance for the wood, potentially linking the duho with greater certainty to an island, where it can be cross-referenced with contemporary styles – this awaits
further study.
The wood had already been identified by the time the duho entered Kew’s collections –
the transcript of entry on 23 January 1860 notes ‘Carved Image of the wood of Hymenaea
Courbaril [sic]’ (Julia Steel, personal communication 2007). Imray had a deep interest in
the local botany and in all likelihood the attribution was made by him, as per his letter to
Hooker. However, the wood������������������������
has
�����������������������
been identified as Guaiacum sp. (Figure 6) in the course
of the present research.
The outer left edge of the duho was sampled for radiocarbon dating, and the result indicates�������������������������������������������������������������������������
that the selected timber was felled, and likely carved, in AD 1315-1427
(95.4%)(Figure 11). The dates coincide with the last phase of the Suazan Troumassoid period (ca. AD 1200-1500) in the Lesser Antilles, but given the duhos stylistic links to the anthropomorphic examples from the Dominican Republic, it is quite likely a Taíno (Chican
Ostionoid – ca. AD 1200-1500) import from the Greater Antilles.

Discussion
Each of the artefacts contributes brief vignettes into the chronologies and lifeways on
Trinidad, Battowia and Dominica – as well as further afield. Collectively, they potentially
span the fifth to fifteenth centuries - a period of considerable flux within the Lesser Antilles:
from the ancestral Saladoids, whose migrations from South America brought unique material culture (including miniature trigoliths, drug-related paraphernalia and low stools),
to their descendants who rose to power and affluence in the Greater Antilles, developing
these material components in new, vibrant and sophisticated ways. Just as migration and
exchange brought these objects, in their nascent form, north into the Greater Antilles after ca. 400 BC, so too did these factors (among others) help to redistribute them, in their
more developed form, back into the Lesser Antilles after AD 1100. Through them the
social networks underpinning the circulation of valued objects can be explored, including
interactions between the Greater and Lesser Antilles, and between the latter and the South
American mainland.
Their chronological placement enables insight into the historical transitions that were
occurring on the islands at the time that they were made – from shifts in stylistic development to the movement of peoples and/or objects, and the social/political manoeuvring
that may have accompanied the latter. At a basic level, the contrast between the two stools
charts the transition away from the strong South American influences dominant prior to
~AD 600 (seen in the Trinidad bench) to the uniquely local, northern Caribbean stylistic
developments seen after ~AD 1100 (e.g., the Dominica duho). Both stools provide a vantage point on the social context and use of stools within the Caribbean region during a
period of growing cultural complexity. The snuff tube provides insights into the circulation
of cohoba related material – and, potentially, the ideas and practices that surrounded it – far
from its ‘heartland’ (Greater Antilles). Tightening the focus enables a more fine-grained
picture of these transitions: the duho and snuff tube, so diagnostic of Greater Antillean
(Chican Ostionoid) iconography and functional categories (cohoba-related paraphernalia;
elite high-backed chairs), circulated in the Windwards and Dominica at a time of potentially antagonistic relationships between the two regions after about AD 1300 (Wilson
2007:149; Oliver 2009:167). As late as the sixteenth century there were reports of frequent

Ostapkowicz et al.

149

Carib attacks on Puerto Rico and neighbouring islands (Wilson 2007:163-164). If warfare
and/or raiding did escalate over this period, then the presence of such objects might reflect plunder or attempts at reconciliation and alliance after hostilities. Yet the placement
of the duho and snuff tube in caves suggests a degree of understanding and connection to
these ‘exotics’ that belies a complete severing with northern custom – which raids imply
– while at the same time underscoring their local significance. Other scenarios are also
possible: Hofman et al. (2007:262) posit that Lesser Antillean groups were middlemen
in the trade of guanín and other elite objects between the mainland and the Taíno of the
Greater Antilles, and this may go some way to explain the presence of high-status exotics
on the islands. There is also the possibility of treasured objects accompanying Taíno migrants travelling south, and this could have been for a myriad of reasons – from marriage
exchange, formally linking the long-distance groups to each other, and so facilitating trade
and alliances, to refugees during the sixteenth century exodus from the Greater Antilles
into allied Lesser Antillean communities in efforts to escape the devastation of wars, slavery and diseases that crippled Hispaniola and Puerto Rico after European contact (Oliver
2009:168; Hofman et al. 2008:28). The emerging possibilities are indeed complex – and a
fitting reflection of the multifaceted realities of pre-colonial island life.

Dogs, seats and links to South America pre-AD 600
Assuming that the radiocarbon date is broadly correct, the earliest piece – the Pitch Lake
zoomorphic bench (AD 431-592) – falls towards the end of the Saladoid period (ca. 400
BC – AD 600), a time of considerable South American influence in Trinidad, and much of
the Caribbean. Between 400 BC and AD 400, a strong stylistic uniformity stretched from
north-eastern South American north to Puerto Rico (Allaire 1997:23; Boomert 2003:153;
Hofman and Hoogland 2004:49), suggesting “…a common ancestry of intensive and frequent interaction between local groups, both with each other and with the mainland” (de
Waal 2006:74). Rouse (1992:84) called this a unifying network of circulating ideas and beliefs diffusing from South America via the circum-Caribbean. By AD 300-500, Barrancoid
stylistic influences swept up into the Caribbean region from South America, marking a
period of “…unusual dynamism” and establishing a network of trade and communication
within the vast area stretching from Trinidad and Tobago to the Orinoco Delta (Boomert
2000:250). On Trinidad, Barrancoid migrants may have intermarried into the long-term
Saladoid communities by AD 350 (Boomert 2003; Reid 2009:32); a gradual merging of
these traditions is evident in the Erin complex (post AD 500) that spanned the southern part of the island – in the vicinity of Pitch Lake – and was marked by a ‘profound’
Barrancoid stylistic influence on the Saladoid (Boomert 2000:239; Allaire 2003:206). This
overlaps well with the Pitch Lake bench date: the closest site (Pitch Lake 2) has yielded
Saladoid/Barrancoid ceramics, dating to the Palo Seco period (ca. AD 300-650)(Boomert
and Harris 1984:41) and the two ceramic lugs recovered from Pitch Lake itself show very
strong Barrancoid influence from roughly the same period (Boomert and Harris 1984:39). 



No evidence for independent Barrancoid settlements have been found on Trinidad (Boomert 2003:161)
It is of course impossible to argue for an association between the two ceramic lugs and the wooden material
recovered from the lake given the constant movement of the pitch (Boomert and Harris 1984:39), but it does
provide some background to contemporary deposits in the lake.

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Within this context of South American influence, and the regular influx of people and
objects from the mainland into Trinidad (and the Lesser Antilles) at this time, it is not surprising that the bench shows strong parallels to mainland stools.
The stool’s features differ from those of Greater Antillean duhos (Ostapkowicz 1998),
the handful of other duhos recovered from the Lesser Antilles, as well as from the ethnographic descriptions of stools used by the later Carib/Kalinago (Breton 1998:8; Rochefort
1666:293; Labat 1992:162). In contrast, it has stronger stylistic parallels to examples still
in use in north-eastern South America – where large, low, zoomorphic benches are common (e.g., Zerries 1970; Saville 1910; see figure 3). Stools have a long (pre-)history of use
among many mainland cultures, as attested by the surviving stone and ceramic examples
– among the earliest dating to ca. 2400 BC (e.g., Marcos and Garcia de Manrique 1988:43;
McEwan 2001:179) – with later ceramic sculptures showing figures seated on stools (e.g.,
Rouse and Cruxent 1963:Plate 25-26). They remain among the most diagnostic features
of South American material culture. In some origin stories, culture heroes thought the
world into being centred on their stools (Roe 1995:52). As such, stools form ‘…part of a
core suite of objects that accompany the creation of human beings from spiritual origins…
an essential means of access to the hidden sources of life’ (McEwan 2001:181). Given the
stool’s ubiquitous nature and chronological depth, it is quite likely that earlier examples
entered the Caribbean as indispensable, carefully curated personal items or were manufactured on the established South American stylistic prototypes: their styles would continue to
develop in subsequent years within the insular Caribbean region, reaching an artistic zenith
with the Greater Antillean duho. Although the zoomorphic bench was most likely manufactured in Trinidad, there is a remote possibility that it may have been an import from
South America, especially given the mainland’s proximity to the island, the strong trade
links during this period, and the waves of South American migrants who used the island
as a gateway to the rest of the Caribbean archipelago. The distribution of Andira sp. covers
both the Caribbean and South America, so wood identification alone cannot contribute
to the possible sourcing of the piece, although stable isotopes may be able to provide some
insight (these are pending).
Although the bench’s basic form suggests South America (see Roth 1924:275), the iconography, featuring a bulbous head with prognathic muzzle, erect, triangular ears, a short
tail and a powerful body, is inconclusive as to possible provenance, especially as it lacks
two-dimensional designs – though at a very basic level it perhaps suggests a dog or a jaguar
(Boomert 2000:298). In this ambiguity, the stool visually encapsulates one of the key transitions made by the early South American migrants – from the faunally rich South American
tropical setting, where the jaguar dominated myths and legends, to the more restricted
island setting where the largest land animal was the domesticated dog. Some (Rodríguez
1992; Roe 1995) have argued for an explicit link between the two animals, with the dog
taking the role of the jaguar on the islands – a ‘mythic substitute’. Focusing specifically on
the archaeology of the Caribbean reveals deeply rooted and widespread concepts related to
the domesticated dog, especially as regards their special treatment, and their depiction in
important paraphernalia. Several Saladoid sites from Martinique to as far north as Puerto
Rico have yielded dog burials, including 16 at the Morel site, Guadeloupe, where some
were buried in squatting positions, as were humans (possibly suggesting symbolic parallels), while others had shell ornaments placed on their bodies (Hofman and Hoogland
2004:49; Rodriguez 1997:85; Mattioni and Bullen 1974). The crania of some of the dogs

Ostapkowicz et al.

151

were removed, which may again suggest parallels to the custom of removing human crania
from burials (Hofman and Hoogland 2004:49). At the same time, dogs feature prominently in the iconography, appearing in ceramic lugs (Mattioni and Bullen 1974:163-164) and
large, free-standing ceramic effigies (Roe 1995). A potentially quite early wooden amulet,
again from Morel, tentatively attributed to 400-300 BC, appears to feature a dog (Petitjean
Roget 1995; Delpuech 2001:57). By the Ostionoid period, the snarling features, prognathic muzzle and triangular ears that characterise Caribbean canine imagery appear in a wide
variety of objects, from stone trigoliths, to delicate, shell pendants and pictographs and
petroglyphs (Jiménez Vázguez and Fernádez-Milera 2002:83-84; McGinnis 1997; Morban
Laucer 1977:3). Dog bones were decorated with designs and canine teeth were used as
pendants (Walker 1985; Tanodi in Alegría 1980:435). Seven duhos, four of which are lowbacks, appear to feature canine imagery (Ostapkowicz 1998:495-496) – from the Bahamas,
Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. In this context, the Pitch Lake carving – bearing the
earliest currently known date for a bench featuring zoomorphic (potentially canine) imagery – may be considered an antecedent.

The Battowia snuff tube: turtles, cohoba and ‘migrating’ objects and
meanings in the insular Caribbean post-AD 1000
If the Pitch Lake bench offers a glimpse of the potential circulation of objects and/or ideas
between the South American mainland and the Lesser Antilles during the Saladoid period,
the Battowia snuff tube hints at the interconnections that linked the Caribbean islands to
each other post-AD 1000. By AD 1200, Chican Ostionoid material culture was filtering
into the Lesser Antilles – including large trigoliths, duhos and snuff tubes (Rouse 1992:130)
– alongside heterogeneous ceramic styles (Boca Chica, Esperanza and Atajadizo/Ostionan/
Caimito) that can be provenanced to specific Greater Antillean regions, suggesting different exchange networks (Hofman and Hoogland 2004:15). Not all such materials were
imports: some are thought to have been made locally, suggesting that people were adapting complex Greater Antillean styles into their own repertoires (Allaire 1996:44; Allaire
1990 in Rouse 1992:130 for Martinique; Hatt 1924:35; 39 for Virgin Islands; Hofman
and Hoogland 2004:51). In contrast, the local Suazan Troumassoid ceramics were basic – Petersen et al. (2004:29) note that the period was marked by ‘among the least finished and crudest Amerindian pottery in the entire West Indies’. Within this context, the
snuff tube’s complex carving would indicate an import, with its two-dimensional designs
strongly suggestive of a northern – possibly Hispaniolan – source. However, little is known
about woodcarving in the Lesser Antilles at this time, and it is problematic to infer that the
‘crude’ work seen in the ceramics applies to other materials. It is hoped that a future stable
isotope study will be able to provide information about the wood’s source.
There is a dichotomy between the Greater and Lesser Antilles with regard to the scale
and complexity of drug-related paraphernalia. Whereas an elaborate set of interdependent cohoba objects – vomiting spatulas, snuff tubes, ‘canopied’ stands – appear to have
reached an apogee during the Chican Ostionoid period in the Greater Antilles (ca. AD
1200-1500), if not earlier, these objects are rarely encountered in the Lesser Antilles, and 

The distribution of Guaiacum spans much of the Caribbean, and into Venezuela – and is known specifically
from St Vincent (Royal Kew Gardens 1893:241), so the provenance of the piece cannot be determined through
wood ID alone.

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are often viewed as imports, or imitations, when they are (e.g., Hofman et al. 2007:258).
McGinnis (1997:227), for example, documented 207 cohoba-related artefacts from the
entire Caribbean region, of which only seven were provenanced to the Lesser Antilles in
her study. In contrast, the Lesser Antilles yield a wider distribution of so-called inhaling
bowls – 31 ceramic examples are known from eight Windward and two Leeward islands,
with 29 from Vieques and Puerto Rico (Fitzpatrick et al. 2009:598, 600; Kaye 2001:200).
Fitzpatrick et al. (2009:599) suggest that the inhaling bowls have the longest temporal
range of any drug-related artefact in the Antilles, spanning 500/400 BC to European contact, but the majority of these bowls with a clear archaeological context date to the Saladoid
period, as do three bowls recovered from Carriacou, dated prior to AD 400 via thermoluminescence (Fitzpatrick et al. 2009:602, 605). However, one of the Carriacou bowls was
found in deposits dating to AD 1000-1200, and the other two pre-date the first settlement
of Carriacou at ca. AD 400, suggesting perhaps that the bowls were heirlooms passed down
the generations (Fitzpatrick et al. 2009:604, 605). If such bowls were indeed utilized well
into the late pre-colonial period, as is also suggested by examples from Vieques (Narganes
Storde in Kaye 1999) and St Lucia (Peter Harris in Fitzpatrick et al. 2009:599), then their
use would be contemporary with the cohoba material seen in the Greater Antilles, and
may suggest a material culture associated with an alternative drug – perhaps for the ingestion of special liquids such as pouring tobacco or pepper juice into the nostrils (Boomert
2003:153; Rodríguez 1997:86). The deposit of these two seemingly separate artefact categories is also quite distinct: cohoba material tends to be carefully placed in caves, while
bowls are found in middens, frequently broken (Fitzpatrick et al. 2009:598). Interestingly,
the early cronista references do not mention the use of inhalation bowls (Kaye 1999:59),
in stark contrast to the prominent description of cohoba paraphernalia. As the distribution
of the inhalation bowls stretches predominantly from Puerto Rico south to Trinidad, possibly suggesting a different drug ritual occurring in the Lesser Antilles, it begs the question
of what cohoba paraphernalia was doing in circulation as far south as Battowia. Did such
objects actually maintain their ceremonial function in the south, or did they take on a different meaning?
Although we cannot discount the fact that hallucinogens could have been taken with
relatively simple equipment – such as bird-bone snuff tubes (Oliver 2009:14) – based on
the few artefacts that have been found in situ, the appearance of specific and diagnostic cohoba-related paraphernalia in the Lesser Antilles appears to be a relatively late phenomenon, coinciding with the elaboration of the material culture in the Greater Antilles.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the distribution of vomiting spatulas and snuff tubes appears
predominantly in the Leewards, islands closer to the stylistic ‘hubs’ of Puerto Rico and
Hispaniola, and occurs after ~AD 900 (Figure 12)(Douglas 1991:579; Drewett 2000: 


Including vomiting spatulas, snuff tubes, duhos and drug tables, but excluding 308 pestles – the latter would
bring the grand total of ‘ceremonial artefacts’ in McGiness’ tally to 515, and which would raise the total for the
Lesser Antilles – if included – to 29. We have excluded pestles here as they are not clearly linked to cohoba/drug
taking in the ethnohistoric literature – although it is acknowledged that, due to their ornate nature, they may
have served some ceremonial functions.
The differences between cohoba snuff tubes and inhaling bowls are significant, suggesting that they were receptacles/conduits for different materials. Inhalation bowls are consistently small, relatively deep vessels with the
perforations high on the side of the bowl, often close to the rim, suggesting that the contents were in liquid
form (see, for example, Ortega and Pina 1972). Snuff tubes, as described by the cronistas and as is clear from
the long tubes of the surviving examples, were used for powders: cohoba – as we understand it from the cronista
documents – is a powder, not a liquid.

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153

Shark composite snuff tube, ca. 10cm L
Sandy Hill Bay, Anguilla

Greater Antilles
Puerto Rico

Fish composite snuff tube, 10cm L
Kelbey’s Ridge 2, Saba
Shell vomiting spatula
12cm L
Belmont, Tortula,
Virgin Islands

Dog composite snuff tube
14.7cm H, Barbuda

Leeward
Islands

Bird vomiting spatula
12cm L
Magen’s Bay, St Thomas,
Virgin Islands

Zoomorphic vomiting spatula
26.5cm L
Nevis

Skull vomiting spatula
5cm L
Martinique

Lesser Antilles

Turtle composite snuff tube, 10cm L
Battowia, The Grenedines

Windward
Islands

N
Trinidad

Shell

bone

wood

Artefacts not to scale with each other

Caribbean Se

a

Anthropomorphic vomiting spatula
15cm L
Magen’s Bay, St Thomas, Virgin Islands

stone

fig 67; Hatt 1924:35, Fig 9a; Hofman and Hoogland 2004:51; Hoogland and Hofman
1993:174-5, 177, 1999:108). The rarity of these objects suggests that their exchange was
not intensive, but rather intermittent (Wilson 2007:151) – they were scarce and prized
valuables that likely had significance well beyond their functional (and mnemonic) links
to the cohoba ceremony.
The ways in which these objects were circulated would impact on whether any associated symbolism was also transferred – if by exchange perhaps some of the original meaning may have been adopted as well, as appears to have been the case for important cemís
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Figure 12 (left page) Distribution of cohoba related material culture in the Lesser Antilles, after ~AD 900. Selected artefacts (clockwise, left to right): Anthropomorphic bone vomiting spatula
(National Museum of the American Indian, 061374) and shell bird vomiting spatula (National
Museum of Denmark, 0.1.161), both St Thomas; Shell vomiting spatula, Tortula (Virgin Islands Folk
Museum; Drewett pers. com. 2010; Drewett 2000:Fig. 67) shark-shaped manatee bifurcated snuff tube
(Douglas 1991:579, Fig. 5); composite manatee bone snuff tube in the shape of a fish, Saba (Faculty of
Archaeology, Leiden University; Hofman pers. com. 2010); composite steatite snuff tube in the shape
of a dog’s head, Barbuda (Jay I. Kislak Foundation, Library of Congress, PC 0106; Olsen 1974: fig 30);
Zoomorphic bone vomiting spatula reportedly found on Nevis (Wilson pers. com. 2010); Skull vomiting
spatula, Martinique (Musee Quai Branly, 71.1939.41.190; Delpuech pers. com. 2010); Turtle composite
snuff tube (National Museum of Natural History, A34542-0).

exchanged in the Greater Antilles (Oliver 2009). With specific reference to the turtle snuff
tube - given the economic importance of the turtle across the Caribbean, the imagery
would certainly have been widely understood – but whether specific information about
the object’s meaning (its provenance and any accrued history) was transferred is difficult
to determine. For example, it is clear from the fifteenth century myths recorded by Ramón
Pané in Hispaniola’s Magua cacicazgo that the turtle had a deep local symbolism linked to
the cultural origins of cohoba – and, indeed, humanity: the culture hero Deminán was hit
on his back with guanguayo – a substance filled with cohoba – which gestated in his body,
growing larger and transforming into a female turtle (showing clear parallels to pregnancy).
After she was cut from his body (birth), Deminán and his brothers had sexual congress with
her, and from her body the first humans emerged into the world, who themselves ingested
cohoba. In the composite Battowia snuff tube – possibly sourced from Hispaniola – the turtle body becomes the central conduit through which the drug passes, and through which
communication with the numinous is achieved, potentially evoking a circular cohoba/turtle/human/numinous symbolism. Intriguingly, the snuff tubes emerge from the back of
the turtle, mimicking the position of the guanguayo on Deminán’s back and eluding to the
origin of the female ancestress – again in a layering of possible meaning. It is possible that
these links may have been understood by Hispaniolan communities, and, as is prevalent in
myths, may have had a deeply rooted connection that went back generations. But as fitting as this symbolism is, it is difficult to know whether the Magua myth reflected a wider,
pan-Caribbean belief system, and had a more ‘universal’ symbolism that was understood
by cultures in the Lesser Antilles: given the cultural diversity of the region, this is unlikely
(but see Boomert 2000:460; 473). Looking to neighbouring islands, an ornate ceramic inhaling bowl in the shape of a turtle recovered from Vieques and dating to pre-AD 425, offers some comparison – both in the sense that it depicts a turtle and is likely a drug-related
object (Chanlatte Baik 1984:30-31; Fitzpatrick et al. 2009:Fig 3c) – as does a naturalistic
example from Barbados (Fitzpatrick et al. 2009:Figure 3f ). Saladoid turtle adornos and effigy bowls are fairly common, spanning the region from Trinidad to Puerto Rico (Boomert
2000:473). Turning to St Vincent specifically, the pervasiveness of turtle imagery during
the Saladoid period (Moravetz 2007:80) alongside the prevalence of drug-related material
culture at this time (Rodriguez 1997) may offer tenuous support. Moravetz (2005:56-57)
notes that more than half of all Saladoid adornos from St Vincent exhibit turtle iconography, and posits that these may have been symbolically linked to Saladoid origin myths and
beliefs in an afterlife, among other aspects. As the Saladoid migrations swept through the
Lesser into the Greater Antilles, it may be that there is some significance to the depiction

Ostapkowicz et al.

155

of the turtle that was maintained and developed over the centuries based on this shared
ancestry, with a resonance that spanned space and time.
In terms of timescale, the turtle snuff tube suggests a post-AD 1150 phase of interaction between the Greater Antilles and the Windwards. Interestingly, this may coincide
with a period of growing unrest: Wilson (2007:149; 2006) has suggested that a buffer zone
developed after AD 1300 in the Leeward islands due to the antagonism between these two
regions. If the turtle snuff tube was exported shortly after it was made, then this provides
the first firm date for elaborate cohoba-related paraphernalia as far as the Windward islands, and shortly before the unrest may have flared up. Alternatively, the carving may have
been used in the Greater Antilles for decades, if not centuries, prior to it ‘migrating’ south,
whether as war plunder or through peace treaty (see also Oliver 2009:167 for comparable
argument for guíazas and large trigoliths), or various other possibilities (marriage, alliance,
etc.). And who was using this object? Was its use adopted by the new owner – perhaps
a Carib/Kalinago? Or, if it had a deeper history in the region, was it associated with cultures that preceded the emergence of Carib? These issues were raised over a century ago
by Fewkes (1907:197) when he discussed the turtle carving, noting “…this object may be
associated with Carib people, who were the last native people to inhabit the Lesser Antilles,
but it may have been made by an antecedent race which these people replaced”. Although
recent research has emphasized that the picture may not be so clear cut (i.e., the ‘Carib’
may well be descendants of earlier prehistoric island populations – Allaire 1997:181), it
touches on the point of who was using these objects, how they came to be acquired, and
what was understood about them, and their use. This underscores the composite nature of
these objects – how their accrued histories may have spanned not only generations, but also
vast distances, turbulent times and different meanings.

Caches, Taíno duhos and Carib benches: the local context of meaning
The Battowia snuff tube, together with the Dominica duho, suggest that the practice of
caching important objects in caves was not a phenomenon isolated to the Greater Antilles
– where the majority of cohoba material has been recovered in caves. Other caches of large,
complex objects are known from the Lesser Antilles – such as a group of ‘cotton idols in
human form’ found in a cave on Martinique (Du Tertre 1667:369-370). The local Carib/
Kalinago understood these to be the “Gods of the Ygneris, whom they massacred”, and
refused to remove them from the cave despite the keen interest of the Europeans to have
them as curios (they were eventually taken in secret and shipped to Europe – Du Tertre
1667:369-370; Ostapkowicz and Newsom in prep). The fact that the Carib were respectful of these objects is intriguing here: indeed, it is understood that the Carib used such
cotton figures as ‘oracles’ (Du Terte 1667:369; Rochefort 1666:280), perhaps a vestige
of ceremonies conducted by the preceding Suazan Troumassoid cultures, among whom
the Carib may have settled (as opposed to ‘massacred’)(Allaire 1997:181; Hoff 1995:46).
Alternatively, the long standing links between the southern archipelago and the South
American mainland post-AD 1000 – with exchange, interaction and movement between
the two regions – suggests a degree of cultural synthesis from which a new cultural identity
– the Carib – may have emerged (Wilson 2007:148; Allaire 1997:181), one that integrated
established island cultural practices. Equally, these could be remnants of practices that
went back centuries – perhaps to the Saladoid migrations, and were local developments
that gestated over time: the clear parallels to the use of cotton cemí oracles on the Greater

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Antilles (Martyr D’Anghera 1970:167) is suggestive of the latter. This hints at the difficulties in trying to trace the meaning of objects through the passage of time, and through
different cultural ‘hands’ and contexts. It also underscores the fact that there were certain
object categories that had a far reaching import and widely understood ceremonial value,
and that despite the distances they travelled, their meaning transcended cultural and linguistic boundaries. Such was likely the case with the Dominica duho.
The Dominica duho – a chair likely sourced from Hispaniola – was, in essence, not an
item so ‘foreign’ to the cultures of the Lesser Antilles: given the presence of stools in the
southern islands by at least AD 400 (discussed above), it is quite likely that stools were
familiar household objects in the region. Certainly, by the seventeenth century, when detailed ethnographies of the Carib of St Vincent, Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe
were written, these were common items, and their use appears to parallel, to a degree, the
use of duhos in the Greater Antilles, and stools in the wider South America region. For example, Adrien le Breton (b. 1662, d. 1736) worked as a missionary in St Vincent between
1693 and 1702 (Divonne in Breton 1998), and wrote of some of the customs he witnessed,
noting the importance of seats when visitors first arrived at the village:
They have nothing more at heart than to give a perfect welcome to the newly arrived. One or two individuals are chosen by the elders in each village… to fulfil the task of guiding the guests from their
canoe to the place destined for their reception. When the latter have arrived, their guide arranges the
seats properly and signals to them that they should rest, tired as they are after their journey (Breton
1998:7)

The wooden seats brought out for their reception are described as being one or two feet
long and
… about six fingers thick and wide…. The upper part is also curved on both sides towards the center
and the lower part, divided into four and hollowed out, either for stability (the four feet) or to be more
easily transported from one place to another, through lightening this mass of wood. This is certainly
what is said among the Karaÿbes and turns out to be their typical seat. So that indeed for this reason
you would say they were lying on the ground rather than sitting. (Breton 1998:8)

Once the guests are seated, they take their refreshment and are formally greeted (Breton
1998:25). This seems an important protocol, as it was in the Greater Antilles when visiting Spanish were invited to sit on gold-encrusted duhos brought out specifically for their
comfort (Las Casas 1951:I 287). It also appears as common hospitality among many South
American cultures.
Another parallel to Greater Antillean stools is noted by Charles de Rochefort (1666:293),
who briefly discussed how the ‘Caribbians’ had “…little Stools or Chairs made all of a
piece, of a red or yellow Wood, and as smooth as Marble”. Such stools – or halaheu (de
Rochefort 1666:unnumbered dictionary) – were interred in burials: “They ….make their
Graves… about four or five foot deep, and round like a Tun: and at the bottom of it, they
set a little stool, on which the Relations and Friends of the deceased place the body sitting,
leaving it in the same posture as they put it in immediately after the death of the party”.
Such a burial is also described by Oviedo (1992:119) as an honour paid to an important cacique in the Dominican Republic, and also parallels South American practice (e.g.,
Lothrop 1970:Figure 31; Saville 1910:II 110; Lovén 1979:133). Indeed, many of these
aspects may have their foundation in mainland etiquette and custom.

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If there were certain parallels between the Greater and Lesser Antilles in the use of
chairs, what of the styles? How did the Dominica duho – which shows strong parallels to
other anthropomorphic high-backs from the Dominican Republic (Figure 10) – conform
to the chair styles in the Lesser Antilles? Turning to the ethnographies, no references are
made to stools carved in anthropomorphic or zoomorphic shapes – unlike the Greater
Antilles. Nor is there reference to inlay, or indeed, much in the way of detailed carving
– again, unlike the cronista documentation from Hispaniola and Cuba, and the extant corpus of ca. 150 duhos known from the entire Caribbean (Ostapkowicz 1998). An undecorated, high-backed seat was found in Pitch Lake (Boomert 2000:297-300), so the category
was present in the region, although its chronological placement – and whether local or an
import – must await more detailed study. Judging by the brief ethnographic descriptions,
perhaps a more common category – at least in the colonial period – appears to be the lowbacked seat of relatively simple construction (e.g., Breton 1998:8, noted above). The Jesuit
priest Jean Baptiste Labat (b. 1663, d. 1738), who worked in the French Antilles between
1694 and 1705 (Hulme and Whitehead 1992:155) mentions the use of “…a small stool,
made of a single piece of wood, fashioned a little like a chocolate bicorn hat” in Dominica
(Hulme and Whitehead 1992:162). These hats, semicircular or triangular in shape with
the brim pinned up to the crown at both front and back, do not readily lend themselves to
a clear understanding of the stool’s form (i.e., was the long base used as the sitting surface
or the stool’s base/feet? – both styles are known from South America?).
An illustration in Sieur de la Borde’s 1674 Relation des Caraïbes sauvages des Isles Antilles
de l’Amérique may provide a glimpse of what these stools looked like: a concave, rectangular
seating surface and co-joined legs (Figure 13). It is identified in the volume as a matoutou –
a low table – although its general shape is suggestive of a seat: the elongated lower base and
smaller seating surface do fit Breton’s description of a stool, with the upper part “…curved
on both sides towards the center”. De la Borde (1674:18) clearly notes that the matoutou is
made of “Bresil [sic] wood, or of one piece of bois de letre [“letter wood”, Brosimum guianense], serving as a table and sometimes used as a seat, fifteen inches in length and four to five
inches wide and six inches high” (emphasis ours) but that matoutou is also the term for a
table made of “reeds one or two feet square and half a foot high” (De la Borde 1674:13).
His description clearly distinguishes between these objects, from the material they were
made from to their size and shape, but his use of one term for both confuses the issue: other
writers noted that the ‘Carib’ term for a stool was halaheu (Rochefort 1666:unnumbered).
The shape and style of the ‘table/stool’ in the accompanying illustration is reminiscent of
chairs found among several South American lowland (especially Guyana) groups (Figure
14; Gillin 1963:833), while contrasting with the typical mainland Carib basketry tables
(Roth 1924:316), and the basketry tables noted by the other early ethnographers among
the Island Carib.10 The anonymous artist whose work appears in de la Borde was commissioned by the editor, and he apparently took care “…to reside a long time amongst them,
and understand their language extremely well” (Hulme and Whitehead 1992:139). If we 

Rochefort (1666:298) is clear to separate the two terms, only using matoutou for the table: “…they commonly
eat sitting on low stools, and every one hath his little table by himself, which they call Moutoutou…”.
10 Labat (1931:77), for example, notes that the table from which the Carib/Kalinago ate their meals “…is a basket
with a flat bottom and no cover. Four sticks in the corners project some four or five inches and are the legs of
the table when the basket is turned upside down. The basket is so closely woven it will hold water.” Similarly,
Rochefort (1666:293; see also 306) notes that “there are also some among them who have little Tables, which
have four wooden Pillars, and those cover’d with the leaves of that kind of Palm which is called Latanier”.

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Figure 13 Illustration from Sieur de la Borde’s (1674) Relation des Caraïbes sauvages des Isles Antilles
de l’Amérique, showing a wooden ‘matoutou’ (table) – but likely a seat. In Recueil de divers voyages faits en Afrique et en l’Amerique, qui n’ont point este encore publiez, Paris. Courtesy, The
Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, AA 41 Art, p. 20, figure 6.

can confirm that the artist was actually working in the Lesser Antilles (and not a neighbouring South American mainland group), then there are some grounds to argue that the
image represents a local style. Further, given the degree of interconnections between the
southern archipelago and South America post-AD 1200 (Hofman et al. 2007:256-258),
this style may have been relatively common, with a long (pre)history of use.
It is clear from these references that stools were also important components of Carib material culture, and vital to social conventions of hospitality. Whereas in the Greater Antilles
elaborate duhos appear as elite accoutrements reserved for occasions of socio-political ceremony and/or sacred rituals in which drugs were imbibed to fuel communication with the
numinous, simpler Lesser Antillean stools appear to have functioned predominantly in the
day to day sphere, as a resting place during meals and events. This has closer parallels to the
use of most South American stools. Further, although the ethnographic studies (Breton,
Rochefort, Labat) were done well into the historic period – a time of rapid change and acculturation – they are still likely to echo older cultural practices. In this context, although
the elaborate duho may have differed stylistically from local examples, it likely conformed
to local protocols of use as well as linked the sitter to chiefdoms far to the north, underscoring their involvement in long-distance interactions (see also Helms 1988). One possible

Ostapkowicz et al.

159

Ca

ean
ir bb

Sea

Atl
an
tic

O

N

an
ce

Carib/Kalinago ?

Venezuela
Arawak
Tarume
Arecuna

Makusi

Patamona &
Makusi

Surinam
Guyana

Uaupes
Boniva
Uaupes

Oyana
Artefacts not to scale with each other.

Brazil

Figure 14 Distribution map of South American low-backed stools from the 19th to 20th centuries with
general similarities to the Carib/Kalinago stool (?) illustrated in Sieur de la Borde’s (1674) Relation des
Caraïbes sauvages des Isles Antilles de l’Amerique. Stools redrawn from Roth (1924), Saville (1910) and
Zerries (1970).

scenario for its presence on the island is an elite gift exchange: comparable exchanges, such
as the 14 duhos Anacaona presented to Bartolome Colon in 1496/97 (Las Casas 1951:I
447), suggest that the duho may have been a politically binding gift between allies.
What further hinders our understanding of the importance of these seats in the region
is the fact that to date, only five examples – including the Dominica duho and Pitch Lake
zoomorphic bench – have been attributed to the whole of the Lesser Antilles (Boomert
2002; Fewkes 1922:89; Honeychurch 2001; Lovén 1979:130; McGinnis 1997a: Table 14a-

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c; Newson 1976:59; Ostapkowicz 1998:189),11 a surprisingly low number given the seventeenth and eighteenth century references suggesting that stools were fairly common in the
region (Rochefort 1666:293; Labat in Hulme and Whitehead 1992:159), and their likely
importance pre-colonially. Perhaps the fact that they were everyday objects meant that they
were not secreted away in caves, and hence few survived. The relative simplicity of the two
recovered from Pitch Lake, Trinidad (including a high-back) is notable in comparison to
the more elaborate examples from the Greater Antilles – although some of this may be due
to their chronological separation (this should not be taken to imply that simpler objects
are earlier in time). Late seventeenth century ethnographic accounts, although fairly terse
in their descriptions of the ‘little stools’, do suggest that they were ‘polished like marble’.
Until a more detailed review of the extant pieces is undertaken – including a thorough investigation of any early museum pieces with uncertain provenance – there is little further
that can be posited on the variety and distinctive stylistic traits of seats in this region.

Concluding remarks
As much as people are in a constant state of flux, so… artefacts, as material cultures, are also ever
changing, with the ability to reinforce, reinvent and renegotiate social relationships between people…
(Hurcombe 2007:103)

It should not be surprising that this small corpus of just three objects can provide such
a complex picture of human agency, weaving together issues of long distance links and local
and regional meanings (whether based on the materials used to make them, the meanings
ascribed to them when exchanged, their roles and meanings during use or the significance
of their deposition). Each embodies its own unique history, linked to individuals who safeguarded them over the duration of their ‘life’ – from the hands that created them to those
that finally deposited them in a cave or ‘lake’. They have great potential for insight into a
myriad of interconnections – not only across the distances some may have travelled – but
across functional categories: they appear to have performed on a number of levels, potentially spanning everything from the socio-political through to the economic and esoteric,
and indeed may have meant different things to different people when they were exchanged.
The Dominica duho, for example, may have performed in a political ‘event’ where visiting dignitaries would be formally welcomed, or a drug imbibing ceremony, or indeed, a
humble domestic context: the object transcended these realms as a multifunctional, and
hence multivocal, creation, with different layers of meaning – whether it be in its original
setting (Dominican Republic) or its subsequent context (Dominica). Stools appear to have
had a wide variety of settings and uses throughout the circum-Caribbean, their meaning
dependent in some respects on social etiquette or political manoeuvring. Even an object
intimately involved in the ingestion of narcotics, and so linked with communication with
numinous sources – such as the Battowia snuff tube – likely had a significance beyond its
very specific function when exchanged, possibly linking the new owner to allies or family
on the larger islands to the north, and thereby reflecting their status while building a fresh
legacy of connections. It is difficult to ascertain whether the meanings of these objects, and
11 These are: a zoomorphic low back and a simple, small high back stool from Pitch Lake, Trinidad, the anthropomorphic stone Guesde Duho – which may or may not be from Guadeloupe – the Dominica duho and a reference
to a duho being recovered from Battowia, and eventually making its way into a private collection in England
(Fewkes NAA 4408:59a).

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their associated genealogies, were relayed when they were traded, but the fact that some
may have been exchanged suggests an undercurrent of shared concepts and/or syncretism.
Equally, they may well have served the same owner throughout the duration of their uselives, ‘migrating’ with them to new territories and allies. Here, their histories would have
been known and recounted, while acquiring a new significance in a new context.
All three reflect a complex period within the Lesser Antilles, from the Saladoid migrants
who ushered in objects and practices that became standard, to a degree, across much of
the archipelago (trigoliths, drug paraphernalia, etc.), to a dynamic pre-colonial period of
inter-island connections that brought people together across local and regional boundaries.
Through the AMS dating of the pieces, these objects have been interwoven back into the
histories and chronologies of the regions where they were found (but not necessarily made),
so that we can begin to explore their significance – not least to the links that their exchange
may have created. The more our understanding of the archaeology of these islands expands
– to isolate periods of conflict, peace, migration, interaction or trade – the more these objects are able to reflect connections between people. Equally, the more we learn about these
objects, the more their ‘residues of meaning’ can inform on people’s needs, capabilities and
aspirations (Hurcombe 2007:3).

Acknowledgements
The research was made possible by grants from the Getty Foundation, the British Academy
and the Leverhulme Trust, with administrative support from National Museums Liverpool.
The following individuals and institutions have all been very helpful in allowing access to
relevant collections and providing collection information: Mark Nesbitt, Julia Steel, and
Hew Prendergast, Kew Economic Botany Collection, London, UK; Daniel Rogers, Greta
Hansen and Felicia Pickering, the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, US;
Roger Colten and Maureen DaRos, Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven,
US. André Delpuech, Peter Drewett and Corinne Hofman kindly supplied information
about cohoba-related paraphernalia from the Lesser Antilles, Graham Usher assisted with
the wood identification of the Dominica duho (running an independent assessment), and
Rick Schulting contributed constructive comments on a previous version of this paper. We
are grateful to the staff at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit for their careful work
with the samples.
Unless otherwise noted, all photographs and illustrations are by J. Ostapkowicz.

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Much

to choose from

The use and distribution of siliceous stone 
in the Lesser Antilles

Sebastiaan Knippenberg

Fine-grained siliceous stone, one of the basic raw materials for the manufacture of tools
during the pre-Columbian Age in the Caribbean, has multiple sources in the Lesser
Antilles. Despite these many occurrences, the Amerindians made selective usage of these
localities. Some were preferred over others, and only a few were significant on a regional
scale. Data from different Ceramic Age habitation sites show that these fine-grained rock
materials were obtained by different means. The bulk of material was collected through
direct procurement to the sources. Inter-island exchange with multiple communities, however, formed another recurrent means throughout all phases by which the remainder was
acquired.
Las rocas silíceas de grano fino, una de las materias primas empleadas para la manufactura
de herramientas durante el periodo precolombino del Caribe, tienen múltiples fuentes en
las Antillas Menores. Independientemente de sus muchas ocurrencias geológicas, los amerindios seleccionaron diferencialmente algunas de estas fuentes. Unas fuentes eran preferidas sobre otras y sólo algunas de ellas fueron significativas a escala regional. Datos obtenidos de sitios habitacionales de la Edad Cerámica muestran que estas rocas de grano fino
fueron obtenidas a través de diversos mecanismos. La gran mayoría del material fue obtenida mediante la búsqueda directa en las fuentes. Empero, el intercambio entre múltiples
comunidades de diversas islas fue otro mecanismo recurrente empleado para la obtención
del resto de dichos materiales.
Dans la Caraïbe, il existe de multiples sources de roche siliceuse à grain fin, une des matières premières principales dans la fabrication des outils durant la période précolombienne.
En dépit, de cette grande fréquence, les Amérindiens faisaient un usage sélectif de ces gîtes.
Certains étaient préférés à d’autres, et seul un petit nombre avait une importance à l’échelle
régionale. Des données issues de différents sites d’habitation de la période céramique montrent que ces matériaux de roche étaient obtenus selon des manières différentes. La plupart
des matériaux était collectée directement sur les gîtes. Cependant, le commerce inter-îles
avec de multiples communautés constituait un autre moyen récurrent durant toutes les
phases de l’âge céramique d’acquérir le reliquat.

Knippenberg

171

Introduction
For many years it is well agreed among Caribbean Archaeologists that the ocean dividing
the different Antillean islands did not form a barrier for inter-island transport and human
interaction (Watters and Rouse 1989). Some papers in this volume highlight this point by
presenting evidence supporting the existence of inter-island interaction and regional social
networks (Hofman and Hoogland, this volume; Mol, this volume; Laffoon and De Vos,
this volume; Rodríguez Ramos, this volume). Studying rock materials and reconstructing
behaviour around stone tool manufacture have proven to be very productive with respect
to this topic. Through the mapping of region wide stone artefact distributions and by
unravelling the mechanisms by which these were spread, this type of research can provide
insight on inter-island transport of materials, and it may define whether that occurred by
direct procurement strategies, local inter-community exchange, or long distance exchange
networks, as my work and that of many others elsewhere around the world have shown
(Knippenberg 2006; see for example Torrence 1986).
The Lesser Antilles and many other small island archipelagos form an excellent stage
for this kind of research (Knippenberg 2006; see for example in the Pacific Weisler and
Kirch 1996). The main reason relates to the existence of very localized sources within these
island settings, often having unique characteristics. In the Lesser Antilles this uniqueness
is mainly attributed to the variation in geological build-up, providing cases of neighbouring islands with very distinct signatures, which is of crucial importance to pinpointing
source areas (Knippenberg 2006; Wadge 1994). To this can be added that good quality
rock sources are generally the first to be discovered, as in prehistory stone tools formed a
crucial part of every day life. Given their durable nature and often extensive availability at
outcrops, stone occurrences remain very stable resources throughout long eras of human
occupation (see for example Metzler 2009:225-6). Finally, it should be realized that stone
tool manufacture is a subtractive process, and that generally the different steps in the manufacture of lithic utensils can leave distinct residues in the archaeological record, in all due
to the good preservation of stone artefacts and the salient typological, technological and
functional features they posses (Andrewski 1998; Torrence 1986). Combining all of these
characteristics provides us, archaeologists, with data regarding a broad array of human behaviour including the localities from where the Amerindians collected their raw materials,
the places where they worked their materials and used their tools, and the purposes for
which these tools had been utilized.
The study of siliceous stone is in this respect one of the most productive lines of research
in the Antilles. These fine-grained materials were commonly used by the Amerindians for
the production of flake tools, which were intended to fulfil a whole range of functions.
Since settlement sites form the primary locations for making these tools, siliceous stone
artefacts are often found in vast quantities during archaeological excavations thereby permitting sound statistical comparison (Crock and Bartone 1998; De Mille 1996, 2001;
Knippenberg 2006; Rodríguez Ramos 2001).

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Siliceous stone
This paper provides an overview of the types of siliceous stone used, the locations of their
sources, and their prehistoric distribution patterns among the different islands in the Lesser
Antilles archipelago (see Figure 1). It is restricted to the Ceramic Age only and it can be
seen as a more elaborate overview of past and ongoing research regarding siliceous stone
sources (see Knippenberg 2006).
Before I go into detail on the actual sources and their exploitation, let me start by
explaining what I mean by the term siliceous stone. Under this general term I group all
cryptocrystalline rock, made up almost exclusively by quartz. American geologists often use
the general term chert to refer to these types of rocks (Leudkte 1992). This is a somewhat
restricted use of the term siliceous stone, since it may also include macro-crystalline varieties of quartz (Bates and Jackson 1984).
Cryptocrystalline siliceous rocks have in common that they are hard, fine-grained, and
often very homogeneous. Furthermore they produce a conchoidal fracture when working
it. These features make them excellent candidates as raw material for tool manufacture,
since they behave in a predictable manner during reduction, and the manufactured tools
are durable and posses sharp edges.
Fine-grained siliceous stones can be formed in a whole variety of geological settings
(Leudkte 1992). For the Lesser Antilles a distinction between biogenic cherts on the one
hand and non-biogenic cherts on the other hand is very useful and instructive. Under the
former all cherts are grouped, in which the silica is derived from marine organisms, hence
they are found in sedimentary settings. This may be in pelagic (deep marine ocean) deposits, where for example radiolarian cherts are often found, or in more shallow sedimentary
formations, of which nodular flint formed in limestone is a well-known example.
In the other group of cherts the silica is derived from silica bearing rock. In the Lesser
Antilles this primarily is igneous rock. Chert may be formed in veins within igneous rock
as a result of the precipitation of silica rich fluids during hydrothermal alteration (Bérard
and Vernet 1997). Generally jasper is formed in this way. Silica may also fill up cavities in
igneous rock in case of chalcedony or agates. Silicified or petrified wood is formed when
tree trunks became covered by silica rich sediments and the silica impregnated the wood
and preserved the original structure (e.g. Schumann 2001)

Sources
The past years I have been working on the mapping of siliceous stone sources on the different Lesser Antilles and gradually a more complete overview of the presence of this group of
rocks is becoming available within the region. Sources of siliceous stone are not present on
each island in the Lesser Antilles. As would be expected most sources occur on one of the
composite islands, these are the islands of the Lesser Antilles outer arc, build up by both
igneous, non-carbonate and carbonate sedimentary formations (Knippenberg 2006). The
islands of Antigua, St. Barth, St. Martin are good examples. These islands possess a more
variable geological build-up than the exclusive volcanic or limestone Antilles. They generally host both igneous rock, as well as extensive non-carbonate and carbonate sedimentary
formations. Still, on some of the volcanic islands you may find siliceous cryptocrystalline 

In my PhD dissertation (Knippenberg 2006) I focussed on a more restricted group of siliceous stones sources,
which macroscopically exhibit considerable overlap in appearance.

Knippenberg

173

rock as well. These are generally associated with the oldest igneous rock formations in the
region, exclusively present on most of the Windward islands, where island-arc volcanism never shifted its position (Wadge 1994). The more pure limestone Antilles, including
Anguilla, Barbuda, Grande-Terre, and Marie-Galante lack siliceous stone. Even flints have
never been found on one of these Antilles, despite considerable efforts to locate them. This
lack of flint primarily relates to the types of limestone present on these islands, which generally are of a high-energetic nature (e.g. coral limestone), whereas flint bearing limestone
is deposited in a low energetic setting (Zijlstra 1995).
So far flint is only known to occur on two islands. The most important and extensive
occurrences are found within the limestone formation on the composite island of Antigua,
where multiple outcrops and secondary sources have been mapped (Knippenberg 2006).

Dominican Republic

Atlantic Ocean
Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico

St. Martin

Vieques

St. Barths
Barbuda

St. Croix
St. Kitts

Nevis

Antigua
Guadeloupe
La Désirade

Les Saintes
Dominica

Caribbean Sea

Martinique

St. Lucia

Mustique
Aruba
Curaçao

Carriacou
Bonaire
Grenada

Los Roques
Margarita

Tobago

Trinidad

Sources of siliceous stone
Jasper
Chalcedony - Quartz

Orinoco Delta

Jasper - Chalcedony - Fossilized wood

VENEZUELA

Flint
Other Cherts (mainly bedded)

inoc o

Or

Important Precolumbian source
Insignificant Precolumbian source or unknown usage

Figure 1 Sources of siliceous stone in the Lesser Antilles.

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communities in contact

GUYANA

0

100 km

The other flint occurrence has recently been found by Christian Stouvenot, who found
rare flint nodules in a dark coloured limestone on St. Barths (Stouvenot, personal communication 2009). Its quality is poor and limited archaeological work on St. Barths does not
allow for a proper evaluation on its prehistoric usage yet. A third island where secondary
occurrences of flint are reported is St. Kitts. These occurrences are likely artificial and the
result of Historic Age ballast droppings (see Knippenberg 2006). Therefore they are left
out of this presented list.
Other sedimentary siliceous stone varieties can be found in different places. Most extensive occurrences are on Antigua as well, where bedded cherts inter-layered with tuffs
are present (Knippenberg 2006; Martin-Kaye 1959; Weiss 1992). But also La Désirade
and some of the Virgin Islands host sedimentary cherts (Alminas et al. 1994; Bouysse et al.
1983; Donnelly 1966). On these latter islands it relates to deep marine radiolarian cherts.
Jasper and chalcedony can be found in different places as well. Most extensive jasper
occurrences are known on Martinique and have recently been found on St. Lucia (Bérard
and Vernet 1997; Knippenberg 2009). Other more limited jasper sources have been located
on Carriacou, one of the most southern Grenadines (personal observation 2009), Terre de
Bas of les Saintes (Christian Stouvenot, personal communication 2009) and on St. Martin
(Christman 1953).
Work by Benoit Bérard and colleagues on Martinique have revealed three important
regions, where multiple outcrops can be found of different types of jasper, mainly of a red
and yellow-brown colour (see Figure 2) (Bérard and Vernet 1997). The southern region of
Savanne des Pétrifications is best known and has revealed the clearest evidence of prehistoric exploitation (Bérard and Vernet 1997).
Jasper occurrences on St. Lucia have only very recently been discovered (Knippenberg
2009). During Leiden University’s 2009 field season, three weeks were spent on St. Lucia
to locate sources of siliceous stone. Within the island’s northern tip, different jasper, chalcedony and fossilized wood outcrops and secondary deposits were found in addition to
scatters of flaked material. Primary jasper material can mainly be found as veins in igneous
rock, which are easily visible at different places along the rocky shorelines. The jaspers exhibit a great variety in colour from red, red-brown, yellow brown to even green. Red jasper
predominates, followed by the yellow brown variety, whereas green jasper has only been
identified at a single locality, Anse du Galet.
Chalcedony can be found in different places in the Antilles, often as very localized small
outcrops, inclusions or isolated cobbles. It is most abundant on Martinique and St. Lucia,
where it is found in association with the jasper occurrences. In addition it is reported on
Antigua (Knippenberg 2006), Dominica (Honeychurch 1995), and rarely on Basse Terre,
the southern volcanic half of Guadeloupe (Stouvenot, personal communication 2009).
Most chalcedony is translucent; however banded and more dull varieties occur as well.
Silicified wood is known from three places, on Antigua where it occurs associated with
the bedded chert of Corbison Point (Martin-Kaye 1959), and on Martinique and St. Lucia,
where it can be found in the same regions as the jaspers and chalcedonies. Exclusive, but
extensive secondary occurrences of chert, for which it is unclear how the chert was formed
and what the associated host-rock is, are known in the western part of Puerto Rico, in the
Cabo Rojo and Moca areas (Knippenberg 2006). 

Banded varieties of chalcedony are generally referred to as agate. For reasons of simplicity I will group all
(semi-)translucent varieties under the name of chalcedony.

Knippenberg

175

In addition to these cryptocrystalline siliceous stone varieties, occasionally macrocrystalline quartz has been used for similar purposes in the Antilles as well (Knippenberg 2006;
Rodríguez Ramos 2001). A source providing great quantities of workable quartz has recently been identified by the author on Mustique, at one of its northern beaches. Milky
quartz is known to occur on Vieques (Rodríguez Ramos 2001).
Despite not being available on every island siliceous stone sources are more or less
evenly distributed throughout the Antilles, when viewed from a regional point of view. The
indigenous populations, however, made selective use of these listed occurrences. It can be
stated that most of the different occurrences previously mentioned have been used to some
extent, their importance from a local as well regional perspective, however, varies greatly.
They can be broadly classified into four groups:
1. Sources which have only been used very limitedly within the direct local surroundings
(radius of say 15 km);
2. Sources which have been used limitedly in the direct local surroundings, and which
rarely turn up in the multi-island region, but are of no significance in that region;
3. Sources which have been used much locally, but which are of no significance from a
regional inter-island perspective;
4. Sources which have been used much locally and within the surrounding multi-island
sub-region.

Distribution
Many, often small, sources or individual occurrences are included within the first group.
A good example is formed by the radiolarian chert from La Désirade. Recent archaeological work on this small island and neighbouring Grande Terre by Leiden University and
the local Directions Régionales des Affaires Culturelles (DRAC) has revealed that most of the
Amerindian habitation sites on La Désirade and some of the sites on the northern coast of
Grande Terre have produced this material (de Waal 2006; Knippenberg 2006). All sites,
however, produced minor to very small abundances, even sites close to the source. On most
of these sites Long Island flint from Antigua constituted the main siliceous stone used (see
Figure 3).
Many of the chalcedony and silicified wood occurrences can be placed in this group
as well. Almost nowhere in the Lesser Antilles, even on the islands where the sources are
situated, do they make up the majority of a site’s lithic samples. At some of the Martinique
sites where they make up a significant part of the assemblage, the large variety among
the chalcedony artefacts suggests exploitation of multiple outcrops. The use of fossilized
wood can especially be considered rare. This limited usage may be attributed to the fact
that these chert types always co-occur alongside significant sources of jaspers and that the
Amerindians had a preference for the latter types of siliceous stone.
The second group of sources comprizes the Coconut Hall and Blackman’s Point flint
occurrences on Antigua among others. Both flint varieties were used much in the Late
Ceramic Age settlement sites of the same name, lying just next to these secondary stone
sources (Knippenberg 2006). In addition, small numbers of artefacts have been identified
at larger distance at a number of sites on Guadeloupe, St. Eustatius, Saba, and Anguilla
especially in the earlier phase of the Late Ceramic Age.

176

communities in contact

Vive
c

Martinique

Anse Trabaud

Dizac au Diamant

Lavoutte
Anse du Galet

St. Lucia
0

25 km

Anse Louvet

Raw material abundances at
Ceramic Age sites ( )
Long Island flint

other chert

chalcedony
quartz
silicified wood

Resource

red jasper

yellow jasper

other jasper

Balca

St. Giraudy

jasper, chalcedony, and
silicified wood source areas

Figure 2 Location of siliceous stone source areas and use of siliceous stone at different Ceramic Age sites
on Martinique and St. Lucia. Location of siliceous stone source areas on Martinique are derived from a
map provided to me by Benoît Bérard (personal communication 2001).

Knippenberg

177

A

Saba

B

Anguilla

1%

1%

Anguilla

2%

2%

Saba

3%
8%

St. Eustatius
48%

Antigua

Blackman’s Point

1%

Antigua

Coconut Hall
35%

3%

Guadeloupe

0

Guadeloupe

100 km

100 km

0

C

12%

D
0%
45%

St. Martin

Supply zone

63%

Puerto Rico

St. Eustatius
Saba 71%
St. Kitts

Long Island

Antigua

55%

Antigua
Nevis

Guadeloupe

32%

Montserrat

50%
100%

8%

Shirley Heights

28%

Guadeloupe

12%
Martinique
1%

14%

St. Lucia

Marie Galante

0

100 km

0.3%
0

100 km

St. Vincent

Figure 3 Distribution of different siliceous stone varieties among the northern Lesser Antilles.
A. Distribution of Blackman’s Point flint during the Late Ceramic A phase (AD 850 – 1250); B.
Distribution of the Coconut Hall flint during the Late Ceramic A phase (AD 850 – 1250); C. Possible
distribution of Shirley Heights chert during the Early Ceramic A phase (500 BC – AD 400); D.
Distribution of Long Island flint during the Early Ceramic B phase (AD 400 – 850).

Possibly the Shirley Heights chert source in the south-eastern part of Antigua fulfilled
a similar role in the early phase of the Early Ceramic Age (Knippenberg 2006). Artefacts
resembling this material have been found in a southern Antigua site, Doigs, and at early
sites on Montserrat, northern Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante (Knippenberg 2006). At all
sites, however, they do not make up the majority of the flaked stone assemblage.
The third group comprizes the jasper occurrences on Martinique and St. Lucia. The
study of the characteristics of the different jasper varieties is still in its preliminary stage. At
present no petrologic or geochemical analyses have been done to distinguish the Martinique
jaspers from the St. Lucian ones. However, some general remarks can already be made with
regard to local use and distribution patterns. 

The chert probably is a more dull type of chalcedony.

178

communities in contact

The analysis of a number of lithic artefact collections from different Ceramic Age sites
on both islands revealed that jasper and to a lesser degree chalcedony are the main materials
that had been used by the Amerindians on Martinique and St. Lucia (see Figure 2). More
than 95% of the material associated with the manufacture of flake tools belongs to one of
these non-biogenic siliceous stone varieties. Almost all of these materials resemble natural
rock on one of these islands. Rare varieties, for which no natural equivalent is known, likely
are local as well, since our knowledge of all the available jasper and chalcedony outcrops is
still incomplete on both islands.
From the site analysis it has also become clear that different jasper and chalcedony
varieties were used within a single site and that the abundances per variety differ for each
site. At most sites red jasper predominates, some however show a preference for the yellowbrown variety. From this it is at least clear that multiple outcrops were exploited by each
site independently and that therefore each site had its unique mixture of siliceous stone
varieties used. Furthermore the analysis showed that not all exploited outcrops were on the
same island. On Martinique, the Dizac au Diamant site produced some green jasper, which
does not occur on Martinique and which must have been collected from Anse du Galet on
St. Lucia. Given the close distance from southern Martinique to northern St. Lucia, this
probably did not involve exchange, but more likely the direct procurement by the Dizac
people at the northern St. Lucian green jasper outcrop.
In addition to these local sites, the typical Martinique/St. Lucia red jasper rarely turns
up at a greater distance. I have seen material from Ceramic Age sites on Guadeloupe,
Montserrat, and St. Eustatius, which resemble these jaspers and are quite different from
other known jasper occurrences more proximate (e.g. Les Saintes). It is interesting that this
further distribution only relates to the red variety of jasper and not to the other naturally
abundant one, the yellow-brown.
When we compare this example from the Martinique – St. Lucia micro-region with
Antigua, the other important island hosting a variety of siliceous stones, strong similarities
are present (see Figure 4). Looking at raw material use by sites on Antigua itself it is noted
that a similar difference between sites in the use of siliceous stone varieties exists as is the
case on St. Lucia and Martinique. Fortunately, on Antigua I am better able to distinguish
the siliceous stone varieties from each of the different sources. It appears that large portions came from the closest sources available to that particular site. As already mentioned
the inhabitants from the Coconut Hall locality made use of the Coconut Hall secondary
source of flint just around the corner (Knippenberg 2006). This accounts as well for the
Blackman’s Point site, which used its local flint material frequently. In addition to these
near-by source varieties, all sites yielded a significant amount of material originating from
one particular locality, Long Island. The amount of Long Island flint, however, varied
depending on the distance to the closest available alternative siliceous stone source. Sites,
which did not have these alternative occurrences near-by, more heavily relied on the use
of Long Island flint, as indicated by a high percentage at the site of Claremont along the
south-western coast of Antigua, in an area devoid of siliceous stone (Knippenberg 2006).
This preference for Long Island flint becomes even more apparent when we direct our
attention to sites on one of the islands directly surrounding Antigua. Settlement sites on
Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Nevis, St. Kitts, and even Saba and St. Eustatius all produced

Knippenberg

179

LCA

Antigua

Long Island

Jumby Bay
Blackman’s
Point
LCA

Coconut Hall
LCA

LCA

Claremont

Doigs

Shirley
Heights
0

ECA

ECB

Raw material abundance
at Ceramic Age sites ( )
(ECA=Early Ceramic A phase,
LCA=Late Ceramic A phase, etc.)
Other chert
Shirley
Heights
chert

Long Island flint

3 km

Geology
Colluvium
Antigua Formation
Central Plain Group
Basal Volcanic Suite

Blackman's
Point flint

Flint and chert source

Coconut Hall flint

Figure 4 Location of siliceous stone sources and use of siliceous stone at different Ceramic Age sites on
Antigua. Geological map is based on Multer et al. (1986:fig. 2.1).

high abundances of Long Island flint, likely more than 70%. Generally these abundances
are higher than at most of the Antigua sites and the siliceous stone mixtures are quite
different.
Again this points to an independent procurement for each site, suggesting that communities outside Antigua must have been visiting the source of Long Island itself, without
interference by one of the Antigua communities. Otherwise you would find mixtures of
siliceous varieties similar to one of the Antigua sites. This multi-island region surrounding
Antigua is indicated as the supply zone of the Long Island flint procurement. It is clear that
the region, in which people went directly to Long Island, is quite extensive and involved
sometimes trips of more than 150 km, which by-passed different islands. 

Exception to this pattern may have occurred during short periods of the Late Ceramic A and B phases, as both
these phases witnessed small scale settlement activity on Long Island itself.

180

communities in contact

Apart from this independent direct procurement some of the data point to the existence
of inter-community exchange between Antigua and its direct surrounding neighbours. The
Anse à La Gourde site, along Guadeloupe’s northern coast, for example, yielded Coconut
Hall and Blackman’s Point flint in deposits contemporary with the Amerindian settlement
at both localities on Antigua (see Figure 5). Given the fact that these settlements to a great
degree spatially overlap with these source locations, it is highly unlikely that the Anse à la
Gourde people acquired these materials without interacting with these Antiguan communities. This is strong evidence for inter-community exchange.
This short discussion of siliceous stone use on Antigua and its surrounding islands
clearly showed the micro-regional importance of the Long Island flint source over others.
So far, it is the only group 4 source of siliceous stone that was used and distributed extensively within the Lesser Antilles. Even beyond the supply zone, Long Island flint had been
utilized, attested to the finding of artefacts at sites as far away as eastern Puerto Rico and
southern St. Vincent. At these sites beyond the supply zone, we are finding Long Island
flint in significantly smaller percentages. When these percentages are set against distance
the fall-off curve exhibits steep exponential decay, which is suggestive for a down-the-line
mode of exchange (Renfrew 1977). During the Early Ceramic Age, for example, this probably did not involve more than two to three exchange steps, finally resulting in a distribution from St. Vincent in the south to the eastern part of Puerto Rico in the west.

Dominican Republic?
northern Virgin Islands
Anguilla
St. Martin

St. Barths

Vieques

Barbuda

Saba
Puerto Rico

St. Croix

St. Eustatius
St. Kitts

Antigua

Nevis

Anse à la
Gourde

Montserrat

La Désirade

Guadeloupe

Petite Terre
Les Saintes

Marie-Galante

Dominica

Martinique

0

100 km

Material from siliceous stone source used at Anse à la Gourde

St. Lucia

Material from other stone source used at Anse à la Gourde

Figure 5 Provenance of different stone materials used at the Anse à la Gourde site (Guadeloupe) during
the Late Ceramic A phase (AD 850 – 1250).

Knippenberg

181

Discussion and concluding remarks
When we summarize these data there are some patterns that emerge. In general it can be
said that the bulk of siliceous stone used remained quite stable through time. Long Island
turns up much in the northern Lesser Antilles throughout the entire Ceramic Age. Also
the red and yellow jasper varieties can been found on Martinique and St. Lucia throughout
all occupation phases. However, some minor changes can be identified as well. The use of
the Shirley Heights chalcedony drops significantly after AD 400. Other sources like the
Blackman’s Point and Coconut Hall seem to increase in importance from that time. The
florescence of the distribution of these siliceous stone varieties is strongly associated with
the nearby settlement and must be ascribed to the interaction of these communities with
their neighbours. The fact that in other periods their usage was negligible suggests that
these materials were not specifically valued as a good alternative to Long island flint. They
more likely functioned as a means to establish inter-community relationships, the latter
being the primary goal, rather than that these relationships were formed for obtaining these
locally non-available rock materials.
For the acquirement of the bulk of the raw materials for flake tool manufacture most
communities did not interact with others but organized direct procurement trips to the
main sources themselves, the Long Island flint and Martinique/St. Lucia jasper localities.
This remained the primary means of acquiring material for almost the entire Ceramic Age.
The constant usage and preference for this flint and these jaspers were not only related to
their high quality, which specifically is the case for Long Island flint. One other feature
makes some of these sources very attractive and that is their relative remote location. Long
Island is situated on an off shore islet and the most important jasper sources are either
lying on the remote tip of a peninsula or in both the sparsely populated southern end of
Martinique and northern end of St. Lucia. These remote locations would make control by
local communities on the same island difficult to achieve and this too some extent guaranteed direct access to these localities by outsiders. In other words, this kept these communities independent from others for the acquirement of these basic raw materials.
The other overall pattern that emerges, which stands in close relation to the point made
above, is the unique mixtures of siliceous varieties that each settlement site used. On St.
Lucia and Martinique each community was able to independently choose which outcrops
to exploit. On the islands surrounding Antigua communities primarily relied on direct
procurement to Long Island flint, but in addition occasionally acquired other varieties
through interaction with multiple Antiguan communities. Such a scenario at least indicates
that redistribution by central sites did not occur and supports the existence of socio-politically autonomous settlements.
It further shows that individual communities had many alternatives for obtaining their
flake tool raw materials. If we take the Anse à la Gourde site as an example again, then
we see that during the Late Ceramic Age this settlement obtained its raw material both
by means of direct procurement and exchange from a whole variety of sources, including
at least four on Antigua, one on La Désirade and possibly one within the Martinique-St.
Lucia region. More can be added to this list as there are a few varieties for which I cannot
specify a source location yet. This only accounts for the siliceous stone. If we further look
at the stone materials used for other types of tools and different sorts of other objects found
in this site, we can at least name another five exotic source localities to this list. This all
attests to a highly interactive region in which stone materials, tools, and objects were cir-

182

communities in contact

culating in multiple directions between the many Lesser Antillean islands and it underlines
again the notion mentioned at the start of this paper that the ocean formed a high-way
rather than a barrier for inter-island interaction.

Acknowledgements
Data for this research have been acquired over the past 10 years, as part of my finished
PhD and on-going post-doc research. The latter forms a sub-unit of the multi-disciplinary
research project “Communicating Communities” funded by the Netherlands Organisation
for Scientific Research.
During my recent fieldtrip to St. Lucia, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Grenada, a
number of people were helpful in many different ways. I want thank Eric Branford and
other members of the Archaeological and Historical Society of St. Lucia, Kathy Martin
form St. Vincent and The Grenadines National Trust, the people from The St. Vincent
International Airport Development Company, and finally Michael Jessamy from the
Government of Grenada.

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Diverse

origins , similar diets

An integrated isotopic perspective from 
Anse à la Gourde, Guadeloupe

Jason E. Laffoon and Bart R. de Vos

We present the combined results of stable isotopic analyses of bone (carbon and nitrogen)
and tooth enamel (strontium) to reconstruct the life histories of the ancient inhabitants of
Anse à la Gourde, Guadeloupe. Strontium data indicates diverse foreign origins for a significant proportion of the burial assemblage. Certain nonlocals have strontium (Sr) values
consistent with the origins of their grave goods. Carbon (C) and Nitrogen (N) isotope data
reflect a mixed diet of terrestrial and marine protein sources as suggested by the faunal evidence, similar to other coastal sites in the Lesser Antilles. Comparative analyses of isotopic
data sets with demographic structure reveal no clear correlations between mobility, diet,
and demography for this population. However, correlations between locality and diet for
certain individuals indicate that, carbon and nitrogen data can contribute to the identification of geographic origins.
Presentamos los resultados combinados de análisis isotópicos estables del hueso (carbón
y nitrógeno) y del esmalte de diente (estroncio) para reconstruir las historias de vida de
los habitantes antiguos de Anse à la Gourde, Guadeloupe. Los datos del estroncio indican
los orígenes extranjeros diversos para una proporción significativa de la ensambladura del
entierro. Ciertos nonlocals tienen valores estroncio (Sr) constantes con los orígenes de sus
objetos mortuorios. Los datos del isótopo del carbón (C) y del nitrógeno (N) reflejan una
dieta mezclada de las fuentes terrestres y marinas de la proteína según lo sugerido por la
evidencia fáunica, similar a otros sitios costeros en las Antillas Menores. Los análisis comparativos de los conjuntos de datos isotópicos con la estructura demográfica no revelan ninguna correlación clara entre la movilidad, la dieta, y la demografía para esta población. Sin
embargo, las correlaciones entre el lugar y la dieta para ciertos individuos indican datos eso,
del carbón y del nitrógeno pueden contribuir a la identificación de orígenes geográficos.
Nous présentons ici des résultats combinés d’analyses d’isotopes stables effectuées sur des
ossements humains (carbone et nitrogène) et d’émail dentaire (strontium) pour tenter de
reconstruire l’histoire de la vie quotidienne des habitants préhistoriques de l’Anse à la
Gourde en Guadeloupe. Les données de strontium (Sr) indiquent diverses origines étrangères pour une forte proportion de l’assemblage funéraire. Certains « étrangers » ont des
taux de strontium correspondant aux origines de leur mobilier funéraire. Les données isotopiques du carbone (C) et du nitrogène (N) reflètent une alimentation mixte composée
de protéines d’origines terrestre et marine, comme suggérée par les résultats de l’étude
faunique, et est similaire à celle observée sur d’autres sites côtiers des Petites Antilles. Des
analyses comparatives de séries de données isotopiques et de structure démographique ne

Laffoon & De Vos

187

révèlent pas de corrélation claire entre mobilité, régime alimentaire, et démographie pour
cette population. Néanmoins, des corrélations entre la localité et le régime alimentaire
pour certains individus indiquent que les données isotopiques du carbone et du nitrogène
peuvent contribuer à l’identification des origines géographiques.

Introduction
We present here an integrated isotopic approach to investigating patterns of ancient mobility and paleodiet for the burial population of Anse à la Gourde. The approach is integrated in the sense that like much recent research utilizing isotopic analyses we explicitiy
seek to integrate data from multiple isotopes both with each other and with other lines of
archaeological evidence to provide a clearer picture of the lifeways and life histories of past
peoples (Bentley and Knipper 2005; Evans, Stoodley, and Chenery 2006; Evans, Chenery,
and Fitzpatrick 2006; Knudson and Price 2007; Knudson et al. 2009; Montgomerey et al.
2005; Montgomery and Evans 2006; Schroeder et al. 2009; White et al. 2007). The isotopes analysed for this study include strontium which is primarily utilized for examining
mobility (Valcarcel et al., this volume), in addition to carbon and nitrogen which reflect
different aspects of dietary practices.
The relative scarcity of skeletal remains in certain regions, such as the circum-Caribbean,
requires that when discovered they should be utilized to their fullest potential. Tropical and
sub-tropical environments generally lead to fairly poor conditions for the preservation
of skeletal remains, and although many burials have been found throughout this region,
many if not most are generally in poor states of preservation. Cemeteries or burial areas
containing large numbers of burials or human skeletons are even more scarce. Nonetheless,
the amount of useable data generated from the analyses of these remains have been rather
disproportionate to the potential amount of information that they contain. This state of
affairs is attributable to a variety of causes including; unequal histories of archaeological
research, the generally poor condition of much excavated skeletal material, the relative
dearth of skilled specialists working in this region and the lack of contextual data for material excavated in the distant past, to name a few.
In recent decades this disparity between the potential richness of the archaeological
record and the implementation of research to actualize said potential has begun to be remedied. This is surely in part due to an overall increase in the volume of archaeological activity throughout the region. More archaeology has led to the discovery and excavation of
more burials and skeletal remains. These recent excavations have been conducted at a time
of increased attention, from the public and the archaeological community, to the promises
and potentials of scientific and technological developments and the application of such
advances in archaeology. Broadly speaking, we are referring to archaeological sciences and
analytical archaeology, and particularly to a set of archaeometric techniques which have
come to be routinely applied to archaeological skeletal materials throughout the world.
The integration of archaeology, archaeometrics, ethnohistory and ethnography represents
the future course of research into the history and prehistory of Caribbean peoples (Hofman
et al. 2008).
As previously mentioned large skeletal assemblages excavated with modern archaeological standards and techniques are fairly uncommon throughout the West Indies and
particularly so in the Lesser Antilles. Therefore, the burial population of the site of Anse
à la Gourde represents a rare opportunity to fill a very large gap in our knowledge about

188

communities in contact

the prehistory of this region. However, this opportunity can only be fully realized through
the integration of a multi-disciplinary approach. As such the skeletal collection from the
site of Anse à la Gourde, has been subjected to a number of complementary analytical
approaches. These include but are not limited to mortuary analysis (burial position and
orientation, grave goods, taphonomy) (Hoogland et al. 2001, 2003), osteological analysis (demography, pathology) (Hoogland and Panhuysen 2001; Weston, personal communication 2010), dental analysis (wear, pathology, non-metric traits) (Coppa et al. 2008;
Mickleburgh 2006), and biogeochemical analysis (radiocarbon dating, strontium, carbon
and nitrogen isotope analysis) (Booden et al. 2008; Hofman et al. 2003a; Laffoon and
Hoogland 2009; Stokes 1998).

Site and setting
The site of Anse à la Gourde is situated on the north-east peninsula of Grande Terre, the
limestone part of the island of Guadeloupe (see Figure 1). It lies on a lower limestone terrace in a large bay facing north into the Atlantic Ocean. The bay is protected by a barrier reef lying just off the coast. The site, which covers approximately 4.5 hectares, has
been extensively investigated between 1995 and 2000, with approximately 1452 m2 having been excavated (Delpuech et al. 2001; Hofman et al. 2001). Three occupation phases
were recognized, radiocarbon dated between AD 450 and 1350, whereas the major occu-

Anguilla

L

E
E
A

R

Saint Barts

Barbuda

ND

Guadeloupe

LA

Nevis

Antigua

IS

Saint Kitts

D

Saba
Saint Eustatius

W

Saint Martin

S

Marie-Galante
Dominica

Anse
à la Gourde

Saint Lucia

WINDWARD

Martinique

Saint Vincent
ISL

Barbados

AN

DS

Grenada

Figure 1 Map of the Lesser Antilles and the position of Anse à la
Gourde on Guadeloupe From (Booden et.al., 2008, fig.15.1).

Laffoon & De Vos

189

pation took place between AD 1000 and 1350 which is assigned to the post-Saladoid or
Troumassoid period (Hofman et al. 2003b). Eighty-three burials were found containing 92
individuals which are also ascribed to this period. All of the burials were situated within
the habitation area, with most of them inside house structures (Bright 2003; Delpuech et
al. 2001; Duin 1998; Morsink 2006). A complex and wide variety of burial practices is
visible at Anse à la Gourde suggesting social inequality and close affinity with the dead
and ancestors (Delpuech et al. 2001; Hofman and Hoogland, this volume; Hoogland et al.
2001, 2003).

Isotopic approach
Strontium isotope analysis represents the oldest and most widely applied analytical tool
for inferring the movement of individuals in the past from a biogeochemical perspective.
This technique was originally applied to a portion of the burial population of the site of
Anse à la Gourde by Booden et al. (2008) to investigate patterns of ancient mobility. This
study can be characterized as the first large-scale application of this method to this region.
Our research expands on this earlier work through the inclusion of the results from the
analysis of an additional 18 individuals as we elaborate on the initial results and interpret
them from an integrated perspective.
In addition this research focuses on the analysis of carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes
(13C and 15N) in human bone collagen in order to reconstruct the paleodiet at the site of
Anse à la Gourde. Following a broadly similar study by Stokes (1998) which covered a
large part of the Caribbean area, we expand her data on 21 individuals from this site with
an additional 39 individuals. The total sample forms a large representative dataset of the
92 individuals excavated from Anse à la Gourde. The information collected contributes to
dietary reconstructions of the burial population of Anse à la Gourde and can also discriminate between the diets of specific individuals or certain groups, thereby complimenting
evidence for past diet based on evidence from faunal and floral remains. The combination
with other data obtained from the skeletons, such as demographic structure and strontium
isotope analysis, allows us to correlate paleodiet with other observed patterns within the
burial population.

Strontium (Sr) isotope analyses
What follows is a brief discussion of the basic principles of strontium isotope analysis
but for the sake of brevity we refer the reader to more detailed discussions (Bentley 2006;
Bentley et al. 2004; Grupe et al. 1997; Hodell et al. 2004; Price et al. 2002). The specific
laboratory protocols and procedures utilized in this research can be found in Booden et al.
(2008). The utility of Sr isotope analyses for investigating human migrations and mobility from human remains relies on several interrelated parameters. Strontium isotopes vary
geographically, owing primarily to underlying differences in bedrock geologies of different
regions (Beard and Johnson 2000). This is rather simplistic as in fact the total strontium
contributions for any particular ecosystem are dependent upon the combination of all
environmental sources (Bentley 2006; Laffoon and Hoogland 2009). Owing to its broad
similarities with calcium, strontium is likewise taken up by the body and incorporated into
skeletal tissues although at trace (but measurable) concentrations (Burton 2008; Burton et
al.1999).

190

communities in contact

Unlike most light isotopic systems, strontium does not undergo biofractionation as it
moves through a foodweb, thus most animals (including humans) occupying a given ecosystem will share broadly similar Sr isotope signatures within their skeletal tissues. Because
dental enamel does not undergo any substantial alteration after the completion of mineralization and is relatively resistant to post-mortem contamination (Budd et al. 2000; Kohn et
al. 1999), it preserves the isotopic signal of the period of growth and development (Hillson
Fnr.

Sex

050a

F

>46 yrs

S

3.27

089

F

26-35 yrs

V

2.74

Age

C&N

C:N

δ13C

δ15N

Sr

δ 87Sr

Deviation

Local

-16.69

9.62

B

0.709171

0.000008

l

-13.59

12.00

B

0.709161

0.000007

l

108a

M

36-45 yrs

S

3.27

-14.38

10.38

B

0.709172

0.000015

l

137a

U

>18 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709131

0.000014

l
-

138a

F?

>18 yrs

S

3.28

-13.86

10.45

-

-

-

139

M

>46 yrs

S

3.31

-14.64

10.99

B

0.709034

0.000009

l

159

F

18-25 yrs

V

2.69

-14.53

10.81

B

0.709146

0.000009

l
n

171a

M

18-25 yrs

S

3.27

-13.81

10.52

B

0.708636

0.000020

194

F?

>46 yrs

V

2.85

-13.84

10.94

-

-

-

-

195

U

5-9 yrs

S

3.12

-12.57

11.91

L

-

-

-

196

M

>18 yrs

S

3.30

-15.11

10.72

B

0.709038

0.000009

l

197

M

18-25 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709125

0.000015

l

199

U

>18 yrs

S

3.30

-15.12

10.70

-

-

-

200

F

18-25 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709001

0.000031

l

202

F?

>18 yrs

S

3.22

-13.97

10.42

B

0.709127

0.000012

l

206a

M

>18 yrs

-

-

-

-

B

0.709127

0.000009

l
l

207

F

36-45 yrs

S

3.28

-15.39

9.57

B

0.709116

0.000013

212

F?

>18 yrs

S

3.28

-13.74

10.40

B

0.709083

0.000010

l

218

M?

>18 yrs

V

2.77

-15.24

11.59

-

-

-

-

219

U

10-14 yrs

V

2.81

-16.44

10.09

L

0.709063

0.000027

l
-

238a

M?

>18 yrs

V

2.73

-14.73

11.61

-

-

-

238b

F

26-35 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709148

0.000011

l

241

U

Unknown

-

-

-

-

B

0.709058

0.000008

l

253

F

>18 yrs

V

2.73

-14.92

11.90

B

0.709162

0.000015

l

288

F?

26-35 yrs

S

3.23

-14.61

10.72

B

0.708646

0.000008

n

289

F

>18 yrs

V

3.10

-14.06

11.28

-

-

-

-

291

U

<18 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709088

0.000011

l

292

M?

36-45 yrs

V

1.45

-15.07

11.86

B

0.708755

0.000010

n

304

F

26-35 yrs

S

3.19

-15.01

9.81

B

0.709122

0.000040

l

307

M

>46 yrs

V

2.82

-14.47

11.56

B

0.709165

0.000008

l

311

F

26-35 yrs

S

3.17

-14.50

10.40

B

0.708849

0.000014

n

332

F

18-25 yrs

S

3.28

-14.85

10.25

B

0.708278

0.000009

n
n

335

F

>18 yrs

S

3.27

-15.58

10.35

L

0.707638

0.000032

339

M?

>18 yrs

S

3.44

-14.24

10.10

L

0.709100

0.000009

l

342

M

26-35 yrs

S

3.24

-14.32

10.74

B

0.709031

0.000007

l

348

U

>18 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709130

0.000009

l

349a

M

26-35 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709139

0.000011

l

Laffoon & De Vos

191

Fnr.

Sex

349c

F

350

Age

C&N

C:N

δ13C

δ15N

Sr

δ 87Sr

Deviation

Local

26-35 yrs

-

-

-

-

B

0.708590

0.000009

n

F

36-45 yrs

V

3.15

-14.77

10.52

B

0.709182

0.000010

l

377

U

1-4 yrs

-

-

-

-

B

0.709071

0.000027

l

378

F

18-25 yrs

S

3.28

-15.30

10.66

B

0.707490

0.000009

n

430

F

26-35 yrs

V

3.26

-14.78

10.88

B

0.708794

0.000009

n

446

F?

>18 yrs

V

3.08

-14.66

11.58

B

-

-

-

447

F

18-25 yrs

V

2.75

-13.90

11.49

B

0.709090

0.000011

l

449

M?

36-45 yrs

V

3.28

-16.82

11.28

-

-

-

-

450

M

26-35 yrs

V

3.18

-14.19

11.50

B

0.708690

0.000009

n

451

F

26-35 yrs

V

2.69

-14.28

11.56

B

0.709113

0.000008

l

452

F

26-35 yrs

V

2.91

-15.33

11.00

B

0.709182

0.000006

l

454

F

>18 yrs

-

-

-

-

B

0.709164

0.000009

l

529

F

18-25 yrs

V

2.85

-14.86

10.91

L

0.709107

0.000012

l

706

M?

26-35 yrs

V

2.87

-15.18

11.15

B

0.709168

0.000018

l

726

M

18-25 yrs

V

3.28

-15.84

11.92

B

0.709228

0.000013

l

953

F

>46 yrs

V

2.68

-15.52

11.07

B

0.709162

0.000012

l

1126a

F

>18 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709120

0.000008

l

1126b

M

>18 yrs

V

3.17

-14.54

11.37

-

-

-

-

1203

M?

26-35 yrs

V

3.00

-14.66

11.95

B

0.709131

0.000012

l

1226

M

26-35 yrs

V

3.30

-14.43

12.06

B

0.709068

0.000009

l

1413

U

1-4 yrs

-

-

-

-

B

0.709193

0.000018

l

1496a

M

18-25 yrs

-

-

-

-

B

0.709158

0.000007

l

1651

M

26-35 yrs

V

3.02

-14.22

11.95

B

0.709168

0.000006

l

1922

U

1-4 yrs

-

-

-

-

L

0.709136

0.000010

l

1945

F?

18-25 yrs

V

3.51

-15.36

10.60

-

-

-

-

1948

M

26-35 yrs

V

2.94

-15.55

11.36

-

-

-

-

1958

F?

>18 yrs

V

2.74

-15.28

11.94

L

0.708996

0.000010

l

2005

F?

18-25 yrs

V

2.83

-13.68

11.04

B

0.708475

0.000012

n

2106

M

>46 yrs

V

3.21

-15.24

10.27

L

0.709143

0.000009

l

2107

F?

10-14 yrs

V

2.77

-13.70

10.69

B

0.709149

0.000008

l

2109

F

>18 yrs

V

2.80

-13.85

11.05

L

0.709071

0.000010

l

2211

U

1-4 yrs

-

-

-

-

B

0.709412

0.000014

n

2212

F

36-45 yrs

V

3.07

-14.01

10.99

B

0.709100

0.000008

l

2213

F

>46 yrs

V

3.12

-14.59

11.68

L

0.708854

0.000008

n

2214

U

>46 yrs

V

3.03

-14.01

11.14

B

0.709156

0.000012

l

2215

F

26-35 yrs

V

3.08

-16.80

10.33

B

0.707747

0.000007

n

2216

M

36-45 yrs

V

2.81

-14.96

11.21

B

0.709165

0.000006

l

2217

F

18-25 yrs

V

2.59

-13.93

11.34

B

0.709168

0.000005

l

2140

M?

>18 yrs

V

2.93

-15.20

11.63

-

-

-

-

Table 1 Results of isotopic analyses.
M=Male; F=Female; F?=Possible Female; M?=Possible Male;
C&N= carbon and nitrogen data source; S=Stokes (1998); V=de Vos
Sr= strontium data source; B=Booden (2008); L=Laffoon
l=Local; n=Non-local; C:N= carbon to nitrogen ratio

192

communities in contact

1996). If an individual moves or migrates between isotopically distinct regions after the
time of formation of their dental enamel this can be detected through the comparison of
their enamel values with that of the local Sr isotope range. This allows us to identify which
individuals are nonlocal to a particular site or region and to make further inferences concerning the demographic composition of locals and nonlocals, the timing or age of migration, and the potential geographic origins of migrants.

Sr isotope: results and patterns
The underlying geology of Grande-Terre where the site of Anse à la Gourde is located is
primarily composed of uplifted Pliocene and Quaternary limestone. The Sr isotope signal
of this formation is essentially identical to modern seawater and as such any locally grown
or raised biological organism should posses a 87Sr/86Sr signature very close to 0.7092. In
fact, analyses of soils from burial pits, archaeological faunal remains (rice rat enamel), and
the majority of the individuals from this site all have 87Sr/86Sr values which fall within a
narrow range similar to modern seawater. Initial research identified 14 of the 50 individual
humans sampled as non-locals based on this estimate of the local range, a pattern supported by statistical assessments of the same data set (Booden et al. 2008). These results proved
promising in that all lines of evidence pointed to a rather narrow Sr isotope range for this
site and for the island as a whole. We expect that other geologically homogeneous settings,
such as many of the carbonate islands, should produce similarly restricted local range estimates and thus permit the identification of nonlocals from isotopically discrete regions.
It is only through the comparative and contextual analysis of the Sr isotope data that
the utility of this methodological approach can be appreciated. Comparison of the Sr isotope data with the demographic structure of the burial population reveals several interest0,7095

Females
females?

0,7093

Males
males?
unsexed
adults

0,7090

juveniles

0,7088

87Sr/86Sr

rice rats
0,7085

soil samples

0,7083
0,7080
0,7078
0,7075
0,7073

Figure 2 Graph of Strontium Isotope Results.

Laffoon & De Vos

193

ing patterns. As previously stated, we analysed an additional 18 samples making a total of
68 individuals. Of these we have identified 17 (25%) as nonlocals, including 14 adults
and 3 juveniles. This represents a substantial number of immigrants (not originating from
Grande-Terre) buried at this site. Of the adults identified as adult females or probable females, 10 out of 36 (28%) are nonlocals, whereas of the adults identified as males or probable males, only 4 out of 21 (19%) are nonlocal (see Table 1 and Figure 2).
The significant difference in the percentages of nonlocal males versus nonlocal females
may be a reflection of patterns of residential mobility tied to marriage practices or merely
an artefact of small sample size. Due to the fact that both males and females appear to be
migrating to the site, we cannot at this time make specific inferences concerning types
of post-marital residential relocation, such as addressing hypotheses concerning patrilocal
versus matrilocal systems. The results may suggest that this group either practiced flexible
post-marital residency and/or that residential mobility is not the only type of mobility reflected in the isotopic data. The isotopic values of the nonlocal females display a greater
degree of variance than the nonlocal males most likely indicating more diverse origins for
the former relative to the latter.
The exact geographic origins of the nonlocals cannot be determined via Sr isotope analysis alone, or any other single isotopic system for that matter, but the range of values for the
nonlocals points to potential origins from volcanic or older limestone islands/regions. Two
of the three juveniles identified as nonlocals have Sr isotope values that are elevated relative
to the estimated local range. These values are difficult to interpret, as Sr values higher than
seawater (~0.7092) are expected to be relatively rare in the Lesser Antilles. Possible origins
for these two individuals may include Trinidad, some regions of the Greater Antilles, or
even the continental mainland. More research into the isotopic variation of the Caribbean
region will have to be conducted to further narrow down possible origins for isotopic
nonlocals.
Several interesting patterns are also revealed by the comparison of Sr isotope data with
the mortuary patterns of this site. No clear correlation appears to exist between burial
location, type, or orientation and isotopic values or origins as determined by Sr analysis.
However, this lack of correlation needs to be more rigorously tested through statistical
analysis. Clear correlations with the presence and type of grave goods relative to locality
and origins do exist. Of the 17 nonlocal individuals, eight of them are interred in a burial
containing one or more grave goods. This is somewhat exceptional considering that most
burials at the site contained no grave goods. Furthermore, of these eight nonlocals with
grave goods, five of them are adult females interred with rare, foreign or exotic grave goods.
Two individuals, F349c and F430, were interred with a large flake core of Long island flint
and a small celt possibly of St Martin greenstone (although the possibility that the celt is
actually jadeite is being explored), respectively. Their Sr isotope values are consistent with
the origins of these particular grave goods (Antigua and St Martin, respectively) but also
with many other regions of the West Indies and beyond. In other words, the Sr isotope data
supports a hypothesis of similar origins for both raw materials and humans from the same
graves but cannot rule out the possibility of variant origins. These patterns are suggestive of
possible links between mortuary treatment and origins that require further exploration.

194

communities in contact

13

C and

15

N isotope analyses

The stable isotopes 13C and 15N are variants of the normal carbon and nitrogen isotopes
12
C and 14N, with the addition of an extra neutron in the core of the atom. The variants
are chemically similar to the normal isotopes, however they are heavier. Of all naturally
existing carbon around 1.1% consists of 13C besides the normal isotope 12C (98.9%) and a
very small amount of the radioactive 14C (1 in 1012 to 1 in 1015). Next to the normal nitrogen isotope 14N (99.64%) around 0.36% of all nitrogen consists of 15N (Schoeninger and
Moore 1992; Sulzman 2007). Due to the differences in mass between the lighter 12C and
14
N and the heavier 13C and 15N isotopes there are variations in the ratios of these isotopes
in natural systems.
There are some major differences in 13C and 15N isotope abundances in nature that
provide information about the diets of humans and animals. A primary source of carbon
isotope variation in plants derives from the difference in photosynthesis between C3 and
C4 plant types. C4 plants (for example some tropical grasses such as maize) discriminate
less against the heavier 13C during CO2 uptake than C3 plants (most plants in temperate environments) and are therefore less depleted in 13C. Organisms that feed on these
plants will similarly have a less depleted 13C signature. In addition, due to differences in
the abundance of 13C and 15N in seawater relative to the atmosphere, in general marine
organisms have elevated levels of 13C and 15N relative to terrestrial organisms. A final visible trend concerns the trophic level effect, whereby the amount of 13C and 15N increases
with every step up in the food chain (Hedges and Reynard 2007; Schoeninger and Moore
1992; Sulzman 2007).
An extra issue addressed by earlier isotope studies in the Caribbean region by Keegan
and DeNiro (1988) and Stokes (1998) is the influence of reef fish consumption on the
isotopic signature of the consumer. Other than pelagic marine fish which cause the isotopic signature of a consumer to be enriched in both nitrogen and carbon, reef fish cause a
similar enrichment in δ13C but only a minor enrichment in δ15N due to nitrogen fixation
occurring in reef environments (Capone and Carpenter 1982; Wada and Hattori 1976).
The amount of 13C and 15N can be measured in any organic tissue that contains either
carbon or nitrogen. Because the amounts and differences are so small, the isotope ratios
are compared to a standard containing a known amount of 13C and 15N. The results are
presented as differences in isotope ratios relative to an external standard, in this case δ13C
and δ15N. The analysis in this research is performed on human bone collagen (Mook 2006;
Schoeninger and Moore 1992; Sealy 2001). Because bone collagen is made out of proteins
it reflects mostly the protein part of a human’s diet (Ambrose and Norr 1993), although it
is not possible to distinguish between animal and plant protein.
Throughout the life of a human, the bones of an individual will continuously remodel
and therefore slowly adopt new isotopic signals when a diet is changed. Bone collagen
therefore represents the average of an individual’s diet over the last 10 to 30 years of his/her
life. Dental enamel and primary dentine are not subjected to remodelling or turnover after
formation and mineralization have ceased, resulting in an isotopic representation of the
period of the formation of the specific tooth (Hedges et al. 2007; Sealy et al.1995).

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Stokes
de Vos

12

δ15N

11

10

9
-17

-16

-15

δ13C

-14

-13

-12

Figure 3 Graph of Carbon and Nitrogen Isotope Results.

C and N isotopes: results and patterns
The work by Stokes (1998) and Norr (2002) has revealed widespread geographic variation
in dietary patterns throughout the Caribbean area. Clear spatial clusters are visible which
are explained by Stokes as the outcome of the availability of food resources on each island
due to island size, geomorphology and ecosystems. There is a clear distinction between
small limestone islands with extensive reefs but poor terrestrial resources and larger islands
with richer terrestrial food resources but perhaps less access to reef resources. In addition,
smaller differences are visible within islands concerning the location of sites, for example
the distance to the coast and an associated reliance on marine resources. This clear clustering of dietary patterns on different islands makes dietary reconstruction with 13C and 15N
isotopes a helpful extra parameter for migration and mobility studies, as discussed further
below.
The combined δ13C and δ15N results from the study by Stokes (1998) and this study
on the human skeletons of Anse à la Gourde cluster spatially in a pattern which is consistent with the expected diet of this population. A significant offset is visible between both
datasets, although it does not affect the interpretation of the results (Figure 3). The results
show a mixed diet of terrestrial food resources combined with an extensive amount of reef
fish. A mixing model obtained from the isotopic signals from animals with a pure marine
and a pure terrestrial diet provides estimates of the percentage of reef fish in the diet of the
Anse à la Gourde population around 50%, with the remainder of the protein component
of the diet derived from terrestrial C3 sources.
There is no clear correlation visible between diet and biological sex or age at death. This
means that there are no observable differences in dietary patterns based on demography, or
in other words, the whole population shared a broadly similar diet. There is also no clear
correlation between diet and locality. With few exceptions the δ 13C and δ 15N data of all
non-locals cluster with the locals, suggesting that the non-locals had a similar diet to the
locals. Bearing in mind that the strontium isotope signal obtained from tooth enamel represents the childhood geographic origin, whereas the δ13C and δ15N results obtained from
bone collagen represent the diet in the last decades of an individual’s life, this lack of correlation could be interpreted in multiple ways. Either, the dietary patterns (and thus the

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δ13C and δ15N signals) of the nonlocals’ place(s) of origin resembles the dietary pattern of
Anse à la Gourde (for example, another coastal site on a limestone island) or the nonlocal
individuals spent enough time on Grande-Terre for their bone collagen isotope values to
equilibrate to the local dietary pattern. Analyses of nitrogen and carbon isotope signals of
dentine collagen could provide information concerning dietary consumption during childhood and thus provide an opportunity to discriminate between these two hypotheses. In
addition, the isotopic data concerning non-local childhood diets may contribute to the
identification and interpretation of geographic origins considering the broad spatial patterning or clustering of dietary isotopic data in the Caribbean.

Integrating isotope results and an individual life history approach
The integration of multiple isotopic data sets with other lines of archaeological evidence
shows great potential for gaining insight into paleodietary and paleomobility in this region. While the strontium isotope results have revealed substantial migration to the site
and multiple origins for nonlocals, the carbon and nitrogen isotope results indicate homogenous dietary patterns for this burial population. Although there is no clear patterning
between diet and locality within the site, the integration of the two data sets could provide
further insights. The clear dietary patterning within the Caribbean, with different islands
or regions being represented by rather distinct clusters of isotopic data points, potentially
provides an extra parameter for the identification of geographic origins for nonlocals. In
other words, when a correlation is found between locality and diet, the dietary information
could contribute to the determination of origins.
Both types of analyses are suitable to perform on different skeletal elements and tissues
which represent different periods of an individual’s life. With that information, a more detailed study can be made on the life course or history of specific individuals, for example,
to determine the age at which residential relocation occurred for nonlocal individuals and
whether migration itself is linked to other changes in behaviour, such as dietary practices.
As there is no clear correlation with locality between specific groups based on sex or age,
this individual life history approach is the only way to gain insight into the motives for
and patterns of migration. Several pilot studies will help us to clarify the possibilities of
this approach in this particular case and whether it can provide answers and/or generate
new questions.
To illustrate our point, preliminary results from one pilot study indicate that individual
F2215, an adult female determined to be nonlocal based on the Sr isotope data, possesses
C and N isotopic results in her dentine which is clearly different from that of the rest
of the analysed burial population. In fact, the C and N data from this individual cluster
very closely to that of published data from the site of Boca del Soco, Dominican Republic
(Stokes 1998). This evidence points to south-western Hispaniola as a potential origin for
this individual which can be further tested through comparison of her Sr values with estimates of the Sr isotope variation for that region. The C and N results from this same individual’s bone collagen is somewhat closer to but still distinct from the main local dietary
cluster. One possible explanation for this fact is that this person lived at Anse à la Gourde
long enough for her bone collagen to begin to equilibrate to the local dietary pattern but
not long enough for the original isotopic signal to be completely obliterated. Furthermore,
future isotope analyses of various other tissues, such as dental calculus and bone apatite,
may further elucidate the timing of this individual’s migration to Grande-Terre and her

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subsequent dietary change upon arrival. In addition, various other biogeochemical methods including sulphur, oxygen, hydrogen and lead isotopes and trace element analyses offer great potential for further exploration of patterns of ancient human behaviour in this
region.

Acknowledgements
This research was financially supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific
Research (NWO), through the research project “Communicating Communities” under the
supervision of Professor Corinne Hofman. We wish to thank Professor Gareth Davies of
the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Professor Hans van der Plicht of the Rijksuniversiteit
Groningen for the supervision of the strontium and carbon/nitrogen isotope analyses, respectively. We also take this opportunity to thank Dr. Menno Hoogland for providing
comments and feedback on previous versions of this paper.

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Trio

movements and the

A motopoan

flux

Jimmy L.J.A. Mans

To bridge the gap between archaeological and anthropological understandings, the dynamics of a present-day Trio community (Suriname) are studied in a synchronic, ethnographic
perspective by relating these to the material dimension of a single small village. The movements of the community in the landscape are discussed as they have been observed in the
field, as well as part of the exchanges of this village with other villages. Subsequently a
diachronic perspective is adopted in which the ‘coming into being’ of this new village is
elucidated. The movements of its inhabitants are presented in concert with the material
development of the village.
Con el fin de cerrar la brecha entre los entendimientos arqueológicos y antropológicos, se
consideran las dinámicas de una comunidad Trío actual (Suriname) desde una perspectiva
etnográfica sincrónica entre las observaciones etnográficas y la dimensión material dentro
de una peqeña aldea. El movimiento de la comunidad sobre el paisaje se discute según
observado en campo, así como parte de los intercambios de esta aldea con otras aldeas.
Finalmente, se adopta una perspectiva diacrónica para dilucidar el ‘advenimiento’ de esta
nueva aldea. Los movimientos de sus habitantes se presentan en sintonía con el desarrollo
material de la aldea.
Afin d’effectuer un rapprochement entre les compréhensions archéologiques et anthropologiques, les dynamiques d’une communauté actuelle de Trio du Surinam sont étudiées selon une perspective ethnographique synchronique, en les reliant à la dimension matérielle
d’un unique petit village. Les déplacements de la communauté dans le paysage sont discutés tels qu’ils ont été observés sur le terrain, tout comme faisant partie des échanges de ce
village avec d’autres implantations. Par la suite, une perspective diachronique est adoptée
afin d’élucider comment ce nouveau village est «venu au monde ». Les mouvements de ses
habitants sont présentés parallèlement au développement matériel du village.

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Caribbean archaeology and the theory of movement
In Leiden, Caribbean archaeological research on the islands is guided by research questions that are rooted in the research themes of mobility and exchange. The essence of these
research themes goes against the notion of the isolated communities that are sometimes
imagined when island communities are considered. Rather, Leiden researchers reveal the
dynamicity of contacts between the different sites and islands (e.g. Boomert 2000; Bright
2007; de Waal 2006; Hofman et al. 2007; Hofman and Hoogland 2004; Hoogland and
Hofman 1999; Knippenberg 2006). The analytical focus hereby transcends the boundaries of the site, which is the archaeological locality of observation. The more explicit archaeological awareness that the principle of human movement underlies regional integration seems stronger in archipelagic environments than in mainland ones (Adams et al.
1978:491). In archipelagic environments the seascape surrounding the islands has been
entered by humans in order to fish or to trespass; in other words: to cross, not to inhabit. It can therefore be referred to as a non-place matrix, which contrasts with the places
of islands that can be inhabited. In the late formative days of Caribbean archaeology it
must have been this inescapable archipelagic dichotomy between place and non-place that
contributed to the continuing popularity of ‘human movement’ as the main explanation
for diachronic changes in the archaeological record of the Caribbean islands (e.g. Rouse
1986:13-14,177-178, 1992:26-37).
In recent decades a shift in theoretical focus in the archaeological discipline has been suggested away from using ‘human movement’ as the explanation for cultural assemblages and
their change through time towards explaining ‘human movement’ by questioning the act
itself (Adams et al. 1978:523; Anthony 1990:908-909, 1997:29-30; Burmeister 2000:539;
Lightfoot 2008:3-6; Hakenbeck 2008:20-21). A factor that greatly contributes to this shift
is the fact that our units of observation in archaeology are becoming smaller. New technologies improve the archaeological resolution by, for instance, the ability to provenance
specific individuals through their skeletal remains and objects through their chemical characteristics. It is now possible to elicit the individual in this discipline (Lightfoot 2008:3-4).
In the quest for theory on this matter inspiration is drawn from other disciplines, ones that
actually deal with the act of ‘human movement’, such as cultural geography, sociology and
anthropology. In these disciplines the act of human movement can be directly observed.
This inevitable advantage is surely responsible for the large contribution in these fields to
the theory of human movement. This being said, these studies have not explicitly focused
on ‘human movement’ in relation to material culture.
The present archaeological practice necessitates material anchors of reference, along
which theory can be incorporated or created. In archaeology past dynamics are elicited
through their material traces. The only situation in which archaeologists can directly observe human movement, together with the formation of a material assemblage, is in the
present. To contribute to the archaeological theorizing of prehistoric ‘human movement’
involving the material world, archaeologists are therefore forced to conduct their own
ethnographic studies. For Caribbean archaeologists the place to do this is in the tropical lowlands of South America where the movements of the descendant communities are
observable.

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Archaeologists focussing on the contemporary tropical lowlands of
South America
We must keep in mind that the image of the small-sized mobile communities living in the
tropical lowlands of South America today, can now, to a certain extent, be considered the
result of post-Columbian histories. This does not mean, however, that spatial stasis should
be ascribed to all protohistoric Amazonian communities, nor that the study of the movements of these and their members, both present and past, should be discarded all together
(Alexiades 2009:1-2; Politis 2007:341-343; Rival 2002:177-188). This counts not only for
the study of hunter-gatherers, but also that of horticulturalists. Although villages do not
move, the people that inhabit them show, and have shown, the ease of moving in and out of
these villages as individuals, in sub-groups or in groups. They have shown the willingness
to move to new villages or to found new ones themselves. Only on relatively few occasions
has this been with a whole group at once, which can be considered archaeologically the
most readily visible manifestation of human movement (Adams et al. 1978:488-489). To
counterbalance this archaeological emphasis on human movement, the movements in and
around a single village, which shape its material assemblage in the process, should receive
some more conceptual attention. In order to avoid misunderstandings of yet another tyranny of the present, a few words are needed to explain the goal of this research.
Archaeologists simply need analogies in order to build an interpretative archaeological framework. The uses of contemporary analogies in archaeology are therefore as old as
the discipline itself. The first deliberate use of specific historical analogies in archaeology
developed in early American archaeology, and was derived from the implicit strategy in
the early decades of the twentieth century that later came to be known as the direct-historical approach (Lyman and O’Brien 2001:167-168; Steward 1942). However, the first
theoretical paradigm in archaeology that actively created and explicitly correlated present
universalized analogies with the past is associated with New Archaeology. Protagonists of
this movement embraced the new methodology of ethnoarchaeology that aimed and still
aims to construct universal analogies by means of contemporary ethnography, to come
to an interpretation of the archaeological record (David and Kramer 2001:18-22,37; and
for some Amazonian studies in this vein, see Carneiro 1979:42-55, DeBoer and Lathrap
1979:102-104; Roe 1980:64; Siegel 1990:320).
From the 1980s onwards, the post-processual reaction was to move away from these
universal models by attempting to topple generalized archaeological reasoning by the
ethnographic demonstration of cultural specifics. Their focus in the present differed by
demonstrating these specifics as black swans or cautionary tales to discredit universalized archaeological reasoning for a specific region. Instead the post-processual perspective preferred a contextual-historical approach to archaeology as demonstrated through
their material studies in the contemporary present (David and Kramer 2001:22-24,37; for
Amazonian studies in this vein, see Bowser 2000:241-244; Politis 2007:325-344; Rostain,
this volume). A perspective that has continued in this line is contemporary archaeology.
This field of study combines anthropological material culture studies and archaeological
studies on the recent past of the twentieth and twenty-first century. Here, the period studied is seen not as part of a source-target construction, but as a study of the recent archaeology in its own right (Buchli and Lucas 2001:4, see also McAtackney et al. 2007).

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In the approach taken here, bits of both strategies are adopted. On the one hand, it
follows the post-processual and contemporary archaeological perspectives in seeing the ethnographic case study as temporally and regionally specific. It is intended first and foremost
to connect to a preceding historic and proto-historic period in its own specific region. Seen
from an archaeological perspective, the study of the recent period this ethnographic case is
set in, has the advantage that it can be informed through the disciplines of anthropology,
ethnohistory and archaeology. What brings these fields together in this perspective is the
material dimension that can be observed. Aided by the abundance of ethnohistoric and
comparative ethnographic texts, the understanding of an evolving material culture set in a
specific regional history can be greatly enriched.
On the other hand, specific and particular as the case study may be, it must be stated
that archaeological source-target constructions cannot be broken. It even works in reverse:
the archaeologist in the present works towards analogical answers to his or her archaeological questions. It appears an inescapable analogical loop of reasoning. The challenge,
therefore, is to contrast contextual sequences from different periods with the main goal of
enhancing comprehension of both, instead of projecting only one onto the other as has
happened, for instance, in early Amazonian archaeology. In these decades the model of the
tropical forest culture dominated interpretation of Amazonian prehistory. In recent years,
however, Amazonian archaeological evidence has been provided to contrast this long standing tyranny of the present for a certain part of Amazonia (Heckenberger et al. 1999:353355). To create this contrast, compatible research categories should be adopted in the study
of the recent period that can facilitate a subsequent contrast with an archaeological parallel.
Material parameters are therefore sought that enable us to learn as much about the present
as well as the past through their mutually generated differences.
To continue in this line of reasoning the material parameters of a single small, present
day, village (Trio, subgroup Okomoyana), called Amotopo, were studied. The movements
of its inhabitants are illuminated through the material dimension of the village: its regional
integration is ethnographically studied from within.

The setting of Amotopo village
The Okomoyana village of Amotopo is positioned on the eastern river bank of the
Corentyne river in the midwest of Suriname, just to the south of the confluence of the
Corentyne and the river Lucie and just to the north of the confluence of the Kutari and the
New River. As historical ecologists in Amazonia have made us aware in recent decades, a
closer look could show that we might in fact be dealing with an anthropogenic landscape.
The vegetation of the area around Amotopo has unfortunately not been studied to date, but
botanists have documented surrounding forests further into the Guyanese interior. These
forests show a gradual increase from least disturbed forests characterized by mono-dominance of large seed tree species (rodent-, water- or gravity dispersal) in central Guyana, to
a varied composition of smaller trees characterized by a dominance of small seed species 

All the villages on the Corentyne mentioned in this article, including Amotopo, are positioned
on the map in figure 1. In these villages Trio (Cariban) is the main language. This language group
is further divided into smaller identities. The families living in Amotopo, for instance, consider
themselves as belonging to the Okomoyana, or “the Wasp people”.

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communities in contact

Paramaribo

GUYANA
Apura
Sandlanding
Wanapan
Lucie

SURINAME
FRENCH
GUIANA

Amotopo
Kuruni

Casuela
Araraparu
Kwamarasamutu

N

BRASIL
50

100

200

300

400 km

Figure 1 Trio villages on the Corentyne river.

(wind-, bat-, bird- or primate dispersal) in the Southern part of Guyana, which show a
high disturbance rate mostly indicative of pioneer vegetation (Ter Steege and Hammond
2000:102). Trees in the flooded forests of the southern interior, which were smaller
smaller than
than
those of the central area, were also documented by the botanist Hoffman
Hoffman for
for central
central and
and
southern Suriname (Hoffman 2009:58). Extrapolated from this regional perspective,
perspective, the
the
village Amotopo, situated in the midwest of Suriname, would therefore be positioned in a
more low-disturbed forest.
However, despite this having been crudely established, near the village of Amotopo
contrasting vegetation patches of bamboo and cotton trees can be found that, together with
ceramics, recall prior and historically unknown occupations (see also Versteeg 2003:36,38).
Amotopo itself is positioned in a recently cleared area. This
This area
area was
was briefly
briefly explored
explored and
and
exploited by the Surinamese government just after the independence of the nation in
the late 1970s and early 1980s. An airstrip was constructed there and even a road from
Paramaribo up to Amotopo was constructed. A year or two after the construction of this
road, the Surinamese guerrilla war of the 1980s disrupted the country especially in the interior. The
The site
site and
and the
the newly
newly constructed
constructed road
road were
were deserted
deserted and
and quickly
quickly overgrown
overgrown by
by the
the
forest again. The
The witnesses
witnesses of
of this
this period
period near
near Amotopo
Amotopo are
are the
the airstrip,
airstrip, aa rotten
rotten wooden
wooden
building and an old overgrown JCB.
Nowadays only the small Okomoyana village of Lucie and an eco-lodge half an hour
upstream from Amotopo (the reason why the airstrip is still open) can be found in the vicinity. Beyond these it takes a day by motorised
motorized canoe upstream to reach the Aramayana
(“the Bee people”) village of Kuruni to the southeast and also a day to reach the Mawayana

M
Mans

209

(“The Frog people”) village of Casuela in the south. A day by canoe downstream lies the
Aramayana village of Wanapan and further towards the coast lies its satellite village called
Sandlanding which is positioned close to Apura.

Immobilia: Amotopo in a time slice 
“Science cannot deal with time and motion except on condition of first eliminating the essential and
qualitative element- of time, duration, and of motion, mobility.” Bergson (1913:115)

The first challenge in studying this village (seen in Figure 2) is coming to a terminology
that connects the material dimension with the movements of its inhabitants. In the first
place this is done by describing what, in village time, is moving which we will call ‘mobilia’,
and those artefacts that are fixed in the landscape, which here are referred to as ‘immobilia’.
In an archaeological setting the whole of the material assemblage excavated consists only of

Figure 2 Amotopoan immobilia: Post structures (from left to right ST-20, ST-25
and ST-1) and stake structures (ST-8 and ST-9) in the foreground (2007). 

The lengthy rainy season from May till August in 2008 is chosen here as the time slice for this synchronic
discussion.

210

communities in contact

immobilia. The terminology in this case helps to remind us that all this material was once
‘moved’. Already familiar with its final archaeological situation, the task is therefore to
reason to its point of initiation: from where an object or its material has been collected, to
its relationship to the human movers, and finally to its immobilization process within the
boundaries of the site. To provide ourselves with context, we will start with the immobilia.
The term ‘immobilia’ refers to anthropogenic traces in the landscape that are fixed in space
and are no longer moveable. Alteration of the landscape, as mentioned in the former section, is one aspect, the built environment is another. I will discuss the group of immobilia
first, since they provide us with the necessary spatial context.
The village of Amotopo lies between the airstrip and the river Corentyne. The village
consists of 23 refuse deposits, 11 hearths, 9 ditches and a total of 639 posts and stakes that
have been recorded. Including the refuse deposits and peripheral posts and stakes, an area
encompassing all traces, the site area has a surface of 8142 m² (0.81 hectares). Instead of
the postholes, the posts themselves were documented. Although the actual depth of the
refuse deposits could not be documented, it was possible to document its outline. Most of
the posts and stakes can be defined according to the structures they support. A distinction
is made here between the post structures (n=16) and the stake structures (n=26). They are
distinguished on the basis of the intended depths of the supports (see Figure 3). A further

RRS
RS

FS
RES

Figure 3 A Trio structure model with specific posts and stakes and their intended depths.

Mans

211

distinction can be made subsequently within the category of the post structures. This
group consists of communal structures, the habitation structures, cooking structures and
pot structures. The cavities for the supports of the post structure are dug according to human body measurements. The elliptical structures require the following supports: a roof
ridge support (RRS), a roof support (RS) and an elevated floor support (FS). The intended
post depths are measured by human leg length (ca.101 cm), arm length (ca.72 cm) and
knee length (ca.35 cm) respectively. Another support, the roof extension support (RES) is
the only one that is thrust into the ground.
Of the ‘stake’ structures all the supports are thrust into the ground probably to a depth
of no less than 30 cm deep. The stake structure category consists of drying racks, intra-support structures, dog structures, camps, lavatories and plant supports. These structures are
surrounded by a toss zone in which 23 concentrations of refuse, or refuse deposits, were
observed (see Figure 4). Ditches had been constructed for several of the post structures to
prevent rain water from pouring in. Altogether these structures, ditches and refuse deposits
form the group of immobilia, since they form the non-moving artefacts that create the anchors in space within which the still moving artefacts operate. Of all these traces, the refuse
deposits are the only localities that vertically accumulate on a daily basis. Below two specific types of mobilia, namely food products on the one hand and the humans themselves
on the other, and their different role in the immobilization process will be elaborated on.

Mobilia: food in duration
Mobillia are defined as those animate beings or inanimate objects that are moved by humans without permanently fixing them to a geographical position. First, we introduce the
movers of mobilia: the inhabitants of Amotopo consist of mainly one Trio speaking extended family belonging to the Okomoyana subgroup, subdivided into four main nuclear
families. In 2008 there were 17 residents of which 13 were ‘movers’ consisting of 7 men
and 6 women, the other four being children. With the term ‘mover’ I mean a person who
brings substantial mobilia into the village.  For the purpose of this article certain food
mobilia in the daily movements of the Amotopoans were tracked as they were observed for
two months in the large rainy season of 2008.
The daily movements of the men and women are related to their daily tasks which are
strictly gender related. The men go hunting and fishing and the women take care of the
cultivation and preparation of the crops. In this respect men seem to have the first contact
with everything that is outside the cultivated area of the village and the garden. Within
the cultivated area anything can be handled and further processed by women. As we shall
see, task division does not necessarily run along degrees of physical effort or strength that
is needed in the process. The material focus that is taken on mobility here, is on the maximum spatial distance and the goods transported back to the village over the period of 57
days (nearly two months). First I will discuss the mobility patterns of the women. 

Girls of young age already fully function in the daily tasks of the village, while boys of the same age still practice
their hunting skills, in a playful manner, on anything that moves within the village boundaries. Two young girls,
Merissa aged 10 and Felitia aged 14 years, are therefore considered ‘movers’ in this study since they also bring
manioc and firewood from the gardens into the village.

212

communities in contact

N

30

MN
16°

2005

2004

26
27
25

20

7

43 944

5

23
14

24

2
00

03

22

21

15

18

16 34
38

20

1

20

38

2

-2

1

8

28

29

01

10

19

12

2008
40

13
31

2005

37
32

2

33
41

2007

36

2008
42

2007

2006
35

0

20

3
50m

Figure 44 The
The village
village of
of Amotopo
Amotopo and
and its
its development
development in
in isochrones.
isochrones.
Figure

Mans
Mans

213
213

Seen from
a material
perspective
one one
of the
of the
is to isbring
loadsloads
of firethrough
a material
perspective
of tasks
the tasks
of women
the women
to bring
of
wood,
manioc
(Manihot
esculenta)
andand
sugarcane
(Sachharum
officinarum)
intointo
the village.
firewood,
manioc
(Manihot
esculenta)
sugarcane
(Sachharum
officinarum)
the vilThe
they take
their
and bring
village
can range
to 40
lage.loads
The loads
theyon
take
on backs
their backs
and into
bringthe
into
the village
can up
range
upkg.
to Their
40kg.
movements
are mainly
restricted
to thetogardens
that lie
near
the village.
OverOver
25 days
the
Their movements
are mainly
restricted
the gardens
that
lie near
the village.
25 days
6the
women
of the
village,
withwith
the the
occasional
guest,
collected
875875
kg of
necessary
6 women
of the
village,
occasional
guest,
collected
kgfirewood,
of firewood,
necesfor
of food
and and
drink.
Furthermore,
theythey
collected
a total
of 524
kg kg
of
sarythe
for preparation
the preparation
of food
drink.
Furthermore,
collected
a total
of 524
manioc
andand
70 70
kg kg
of sugarcane.
OnOn
average
thisthis
resulted
in totals
of 35
21
of manioc
of sugarcane.
average
resulted
in totals
of kg
35 of
kgfirewood,
of firewood,
kg
andand
2.8 2.8
kg of
per per
day.day.
TheThe
average
maximum
distance
outside
the
21 of
kgmanioc
of manioc
kgsugarcane
of sugarcane
average
maximum
distance
outside
village
clearing
is 206
m (disregarding
one one
anomaly)
and and
is restricted
by the
of the
the village
clearing
is 206
m (disregarding
anomaly)
is restricted
by limits
the limits
of
gardens
(see (see
Figure
6). 6).
the gardens
Figure
The men go out fishing and hunting, so the mobilia they bring into the village on a
daily basis are mainly animals and the fruits they happen to encounter on the way. For the
purpose of this article I focus here on the animal component. Over 57 days these 7 men, at
times assisted by occasional guests, fished and hunted a total of 320 animals. The majority
of this number, 79% (n=253), comprises fish in which the catfish category dominates, such
as the Manduba (Ageneiosus inermis), the red-tailed catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus)
and the tiger shovelnose catfish (Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum), but other species such as pacu
(Myleus rhomboidalis) and piranha (Serrasalmus sp.) were also caught. The other 21% con-

N

LUCIE
21-05

16-06
18-06

MN
16°

20-07
01-06 16-07
30-05
AMOTOPO

05-06

17-07
27-05

15-07
19-05 27-05
25-05 02-07
07-06
08-06
28-06
27-06
03-06 15-07
28-06
01-07
22-07

14-06
21-06

24-05

24-06
29-05

17-05
02-06
23-06
30-06
29-06 14-07

06-06

0

1000

5000m

03-07
24-07

Figure 5 Fifty-seven days of mobilia collection by the Amotopoan men.

214

communities in contact

18-05

sists of hunted animals, of which mammals dominate, such as agoutis (Dasyprocta leporine),
howler monkeys (Alouatta seniculus), armadillos (Dasypus novemcintus). A minority consists
of birds, such as black curassows (Crax alector), and reptiles such as caimans (Caiman crocodiles) and iguanas (Iguana iguana). A daily average of this number can be calculated to 4.4
fish and 1.2 game for all the 17 residents together. The average maximum distance (disregarding one anomaly) travelled for these mobilia is 2,834 m (see Figure 5). The number of
game is overrepresented since the hunting of the rodents was facilitated in this period by
the flooding of the islands which in one instance brought a very fruitful bounty of twenty
agoutis, one paca and seven armadillos.
The greatest part of the above mentioned mobilia was consumed and its remains deposited in one of the refuse heaps. Here the mobilia are subjected to their final deposition
and are transformed into immobilia; they become a permanent feature, geographically
fixed in the landscape. A smaller component of the food items, however, stays ‘mobile’ and
was observed being given to members of other villages in return for other mobilia. Not
only animals and root crops are given away to people outside Amotopo, but other mobilia
gathered by the residents on trips to the coastal area are also desired exchange items for the
members of other villages. One can think of industrial items such as metal pots, plastic
containers, clothes, metal tools such as machetes, knifes, fish hooks, etc. that are exchanged
mainly for perishable items, such as woven manioc squeezers, sieves, resins, arrow reed and
bow wood.
Over a total period of 72 days only 35 kg of manioc (one carrying basket, T: Katari)
was exchanged, together with some processed products, such as 7 kg of cassava bread and 5
litres of cassava beer. This must be considered a small amount, since a large number of the
manioc plants in the gardens were rotten due to the heavy rains. A year before, in 2007,
this had also happened at their former village of Kwamarasamutu. Then, Amotopo sent
their former co-habitants a surplus of 400 kg of manioc. The observed animal exchanges
over a period of 72 days showed that 67 individual animals of the total of fish and game
were exchanged. Except for one smoked iguana, these were all fish. Averaged to a daily total, 0.95 of the 4.40 caught fish is exchanged from Amotopo. In other words, 22% of all
the caught fish leaves the village.
As we can see from the food items, the greater part of the mobilia are turned into immobilia through the final deposition on the refuse heaps, in the form of cassava peels and
the skeletal remains of the animals consumed. The vertical growth of these refuse deposits
is helped by the weeding of the village area, which is also a daily task in the rainy season.
These weeds and soils are also deposited on the refuse heaps, which removes the stench of
the rotting food remains. However, as we have seen not all the food is consumed within
the village boundaries. The remaining part continues as mobilia until it becomes immobilized in another village. Mobilia that enter the village and subsequently leave its boundaries
again is what is referred to here as the village flux. 



The total fieldwork in 2008 lasted 72 days in which exchange could be monitored. Within this period trips to
two other villages were made by the author, which meant that I was not able to track the daily mobility in and
around Amotopo.
Of these 67 exchanged animals, 51 were whole individuals and 16 were represented by parts. This last mentioned should be understood as, for instance, only the exchange of a fish head or only its tail.
At a certain moment during my fieldwork a large exchange was being prepared that included several smoked
and grilled mammals. This exchange, however, was cancelled at the last minute when it appeared that the small
airplane, the intended vehicle of transport, was not continuing to its expected destination.

Mans

215

N
MN
16°

AMOTOPO

25-6
26-6
27-6
28-6
29-6
30-6
01-7 30-6
27-6
30-6
30-6

28-6
29-7

24-7
15-7
21-7 26-7
24-7

01-7
15-7
18-7
29-6

0

200

500m

Figure 6 Twenty-five days of mobilia collection by the Amotopoan women.

Humans in
in duration
duration
Mobilia: humans
“[Duration/motion] is not a quantity, and as soon as we try to measure it, we unwittingly replace it
by space” (Bergson 1913:106)

Besides the food mobilia that are part of the flux before they are deposited, the same counts
for the human residents themselves, who move their bodies through the landscape. How
are their movements reflected in the built environment of the village? We start this discussion with the first residents in 2001 who made a clearing and a garden on the location that
came to be known as Amotopo.
The Okomoyana stepbrothers Paneshi Panekke and Pepu Ipajari were both Kapiteins
in the village of Kwamarasamutu which is the largest Trio speaking village in Suriname. In
1999 Granman Asongo, the paramount chief of the Trio, reasoned that their former land
had to be cultivated again before people from the coast could claim it as their territory. The
Okomoyana stepbrothers were asked to go back to the land of their Okomoyana ancestors,

216

communities in contact

Pehkëtë, which is roughly the area between the Frederik Willem IV falls and the confluence
of Lucie and the Corentyne rivers. Another reason given for sub-group movements out of
Kwamarasamutu is that the resources of Kwamarasamutu slowly became exhausted; the
children also became sick, which made some families decide to leave the village.
The Okomoyana families were not the only ones to leave Kwamarasamutu. Some years
before they left, two Aramayana (the ‘bee people’) sub-groups, and a Mawayana (the ‘frog
people’) sub-group moved out of Kwamarasamutu to found new villages to the northwest, along the border river the Corentyne. One settled on an abandoned military camp
(Kuruni), one close by another military camp (Casuela) and another one on a prehistoric
site (Wanapan below the Wonotobo falls). All seem to be positioned on former clearings.
In 2000 Kapitein Paneshi Panekke moved from Kwamarasamutu to Kuruni and finally
to Casuela. He stayed there, while looking for a suitable spot in Pëhkëtë, and found just
that near the airstrip of Amotopo. Then Pepu came from Kwamarasamutu and together
they moved to the new spot. They decided to live in the wooden building that was already
there, while constructing a garden 100m further away. As they started with just a small
garden, they had no manioc and received some at times from the people of Casuela. When
the first manioc was ready to be harvested in 2001 their wives Toke and Apëpïn came
over to Amotopo, together with Pepu’s daughter-in-law Consita, and a grandson named
Aterie. First a camp structure (ST-5) was built, and from there the communal structures
(ST-01 and ST-02) a kitchen structure and some dog structures were constructed in the
garden. Slowly, a village clearing started to emerge. After a year Aterie left to go back
to Kwamarasamutu and a nephew of Apëpïn, Erijam Numephë came over to Amotopo.
Erijam was on his way to visit his mother in the Trio village Sandlanding. In Amotopo he
helped with extending the limits of the garden and the village, and in the end, stayed for
two years before he continued his journey.
In 2003 the household group of two nuclear families was expanded with another nuclear family: that of the eldest son of Paneshi, Atinio Panekke. He constructed a house for
his nuclear family (ST-12). In 2004, Putu, the husband of the stepsister of Apëpïn, arrived
in the village and started the construction of a house for himself and his wife (ST-25, and
a kitchen, ST-26). A year later stepsister Sarawa came over. In the same year, two more
nuclear families came to Amotopo. The first nuclear family was that of the eldest granddaughter of Paneshi with her son and husband who constructed a house in the second ring
(ST-32). Secondly, the youngest son of Paneshi, Mepi, together with his wife Sarita, arrived
in Amotopo and moved into the house of his father (ST-20) who then moved his residence
to an extension of the communal house (ST-01). In that same year, the other founding
nuclear family, namely that of Pepu, his wife Toke and their daughter-in-law Konsita,
moved out of the village. They founded their own village, called Lucie, on an island in the
Corentyne, 5km downstream from Amotopo. In 2006, Aterie came back to Amotopo and
started constructing his own house in the third ring from the communal house (ST-35).
In 2007 another nuclear family, the step sister of Apëpin, Sarawa, and her husband Putu
moved out of the village to the Trio village Sandlanding in the north to collect her social
security money and to visit her daughter. In the period of my last fieldwork it was not yet
clear if she was coming back. In 2007 another nuclear family, that of the second son of 

The village Kwamarasamutu has been continuously inhabited from 1976 up to the present. In 2004 the estimate
for the number of inhabitants was between 800 en 900 (Carlin 2004:2), whereas by 2009 this estimate had
diminished to 600 inhabitants (Carlin and Van Goethem 2009:17).

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217

Paneshi, Petinia, his wife Senairë and their children, came to Amotopo. Paneshi built a
house for them (ST-36). Petinia himself was looking for gold in the east and came a year
later. In 2007 yet two other nuclear families (the family of Mepi and the family of Mereo)
both went to live in Kuruni for a year. Both Mereo and Sarita were pregnant and Kuruni
is the nearest village that offers governmental health care. In 2008 they both returned to
Amotopo. In 2008 the nuclear family of the second son left to visit family in the Trio villages in Brazil, they did not know if they were coming back. In 2008 Erijam also arrived
back after his visit to his mother in Sandlanding and started to construct a new model
house (ST-42) as he had seen there, in the third ring next to Aterie’s house.
As becomes clear from this diachronic description, not all the inhabitants of Amotopo
are in residential stasis as they move back and forth between different localities. Whereas a
rough concentric village lay-out could be distinguished in 2008, it became clear that only
part of it was lived in. While new residents were building new structures in the second and
the third circle around the communal structure, some residents of the first circle might already have left. In the early years of the village the human flux is reflected in a horizontal
accumulation. The outline of the village in 2008 should therefore not be seen as the material representation of the 17 residents, but instead should be seen as the sum of its human
flux over the 7 years which in this case is that of 24 residents.
So far, however, none of the villagers have passed away, which means that all ‘movers’
are themselves still ‘mobilia’. They are still in flux. Some of the Trio seem to move residence
at least three times in their lives (Mans 2009:83) and because of their frequent travels, it
is not always easy to distinguish the place of residence for each individual at a specific moment. To get an idea of the immobilization of the human flux, we need some help from history. Through interviews a reconstruction could be made of the human flux of one of the
first missionary villages, the village of Araraparu. Of the Araraparu residents documented
by anthropologist Peter Rivière in the early years of the village (Rivière 1969:309-318),
146 residents and their subsequent residential movements could still be remembered by
the Amotopoan elders. Of this group of residents 15 persons are said to have been buried
in Araraparu. The 129 other residents, and those that arrived in Arararparu after Rivière’s
fieldwork, all moved to Kwamarasamutu and other villages. Although these numbers do
not give us the exact human flux of the village, it does provide us with a relative estimate.
The human immobilization, the remembered ‘movers’ that were eventually buried there,
form in this case 10% of the total of remembered residents in the first years of Araraparu’s
existence.

The Amotopoan flux
This case study shows the relationship between Trio dynamics and Amotopoan traces, and
calls for approaching the spatial configuration of the immobilia encountered in archaeological excavations as reflecting the flux of a locality. Since we cannot capture movement itself,
we must approach them through the spatial configuration of its traces. The study of the
spatial layout of a settlement can inform us about the former movements of its inhabitants.
A first step to take is to perceive a village in terms of duration, which is helped by perceiving objects in terms of movement. Therefore, an archaeological site should not be considered a temporally flattened mirror of its population, but rather a distorted image of immobilia. The flux of mobilia slowly shapes a locality through a process of immobilization.

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communities in contact

What I hope to have demonstrated in this paper is the difference between the two dimensions of mobilia and immobilia and my perspective on how they relate to one another.
In archaeology we tend to look at the total of the material dimension of one occupation
phase and connect it to a number of people who lived there. However, of the total village
flux only a part is immobilized, while the rest moves on. These immobilia in turn have
an effect on the subsequent flux of mobilia. The flux of food and of humans, as discussed
here, are only two elements of this total. The food mobilia that become vertically immobilized on top of refuse deposits have an effect on the subsequent growth of a settlement.
Although the human mobilia in the village Amotopo have not yet immobilized, their flux
has already had a lasting impact on the spatial configuration of the village. The structures,
seen as composite artefacts, are instantly immobilized upon their creation within the village boundaries. Whenever a structure is made by humans it limits the space in which the
next structure can be built, and sometimes it even determines it. While the people themselves can move on, the existence of their former houses can still influence the position of
a neighbouring new structure in the same village. The built environment is therefore an
interesting category, from a movement perspective, that needs further exploration.

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Culture
Contact

El C horro

de

Maíta

A diverse approach to a context of diversity

Roberto Valcárcel Rojas, Darlene A. Weston, Hayley L.
Mickleburgh, Jason E. Laffoon and Anne van Duijvenbode

This paper applies an innovative, multidisciplinary approach to the human and cultural
remains recovered from the cemetery of El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba. The study of this indigenous cemetery, dated to late prehistoric and early contact period, provides new insights
into the issue of Indigenous-European interaction and processes of culture contact. The
authors have used an integrated osteoarchaeological approach, combining a demographic
study of the population, the study of intentional cranial modification, dental anthropology and strontium isotope analysis with a (re)analysis of the material culture encountered
in the burial context. This dynamic period of contact and interaction between the indigenous population and Europeans appears to be characterized by a greater degree of cultural,
social, and biological diversity than hitherto recognized in the Caribbean archaeological
record.
Este papel aplica un acercamiento multidisciplinario innovador a los restos humanos y
culturales recuperados del cementerio de El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba. El estudio de este
cementerio indígena, fechado al período prehistórico tardío y al período de contacto colonial temprano, proporciona nuevos percepciones sobre el tema de la interacción entre
amerindios y europeos y los procesos de contacto cultural. Los autores han utilizado un
enfoque osteoarqueológico integrado, que combina un estudio demográfico de la población, el estudio de modificación intencional cráneal, la antropología dental y el análisis de
isótopos de estroncio con un (re)análisis de la cultura material encontrado en el contexto de
los entierros. Este período dinámico de contacto y interacción entre la población indígena
y los europeos parece caracterizarse por un mayor grado de diversidad cultural, social, y
biológica hasta ahora reconocido en el registro arqueológico del Caribe.
Cet papier prend une approche pluridisciplinaire innovante aux restes humaines et matériels culturelles retrouvés dans le cimetière d’El Chorro de Maíta, Cuba. L’étude de ce
cimetière indigène, datant de la préhistoire tardive et du début de la période Coloniale,
éclaircit beaucoup sur la question de l’interaction entre Amérindiens et Européens et les
processus de contact culturel. Les auteurs ont utilisé une approche intégrée ostéoarchéologique, combinant une étude démographique de la population, l’étude de la modification
intentionnelle du crâne, l’anthropologie dentaire et l’analyse des isotopes de strontium
avec une (nouvelle) analyse du matériel culturel rencontré dans le contexte d’inhumations.
Cette période dynamique de contact et d’interaction entre la population indigène et les
Européens semble être caractérisé par un degré plus élevé de diversité culturelle, sociale et
biologique, que a été reconnu dans l’archéologie des Caraïbes jusqu’à présent.

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

225

Introduction
Understanding the process of contact between Europeans and indigenous peoples in the
Caribbean is often difficult, since it does not always generate material evidence that is easily recognizable in the archaeological record. Certain details of the materiality of contact
can elude detection by the traditional methodologies used to study indigenous sites; in order to elucidate details researchers must begin with an approach which is suited specifically
to locating and identifying them (Deagan 2004:603-604).
Through the use of such traditional methodologies, an image of a distinct differentiation between the Native and the European has arisen, based on the implicit assumption
that these cultural entities are homogenous. This approach reduces the ability to observe
the inherent variability of both the indigenous and European worlds, which was so essential to the processes of contact and interaction. In this way we have also come to lose the
diversity of the indigenous world, to one that is entirely reshaped by the European: a new
and colonized being where multiple ethnicities are now grouped into social positions and
categories which are solely dependent on the European schemes of control. In order to
overcome these difficulties we must learn to perceive the process of contact as more than
merely a significant presence of mixed cultural characteristics in archaeological sites. It is
essential to use research tools that allow us to evaluate the diversity in processes, from various perspectives, in this way corroborating or completing the individual data sets in order
to establish an integrated and coherent image.
In recent years, this approach has been the premise of archaeological investigations of
the site of El Chorro de Maíta, in north-eastern Cuba. Our paper highlights the utility of a
multidisciplinary approach as a resource to uncover rarely identified details of IndigenousEuropean interaction at this site and in this way better understand a society impacted by
colonial actions. This study centres on the human and cultural remains of the cemetery
situated at this site and reveals a universe both diverse and dynamic, as much in its schemes
of interactions as in its social and ethnic structures. This provides a new perspective that
contrasts with the predominant ideas on this cemetery and shows aspects hitherto unrecognized in the archaeological record of this region.

El Chorro de Maíta
The site is located in the present-day province of Holguín, about 4 km from the coast, on
the slope of a hill commonly known as Cerro de Yaguajay. Preserved here are the remains of
a large settlement of the cultural type known as Etapa agroalfarera (Tabío Rey 1984) or Fase
agricultores (Guarch Delmonte 1990). Ceramics found at the site belong to a local variant
of the Meillacan Ostionoid subseries (Rouse 1992:96; Valcárcel Rojas 2002:64). In 1941,
Benjamin Irving Rouse explored the site and compiled a report on his observations on the
site itself and the provenance of the archaeological materials found there (Rouse 1942:103106). Between 1986 and 1987, archaeologists of the Departamento de Arqueología in
Holguín, under the direction of José Manuel Guarch Delmonte, located and excavated a
cemetery in the western central part of the site (Guarch Delmonte 1996:20). The cemetery
was the only one reported to date for this type of community in Cuba.
During these excavations, non-funerary spaces were also investigated. Here, and in the
cemetery, small quantities of materials of European origin were discovered together with
indigenous materials. These primarily consisted of ceramics and pig remains (Sus scrofa).

226

communities in contact

The non-funerary contexts are thought to be the remains of a village that surrounded the
area of burials (Guarch Delmonte 1996:16).

Previous research
From the cemetery the remains of at least 108 individuals were excavated (Guarch
Delmonte 1996:17), including one burial (no. 36) of modern appearance, and a skull (no.
22) with facial and craniometric characteristics which some investigators interpreted as being European (Rivero de la Calle et al. 1990:85). In the latter case, no post-cranial remains
were found (Guarch Delmonte 1996:17-20).
The initial investigation focussed on the physical characteristics of the human remains
and the analyses of the materials associated with the burials. Physical anthropological and
craniological analyses included a study of the presence of fronto-occipital cranial modification (also known as tabular modification), and an interpretation of racial origin based on
cranial morphology and stature. The results of these studies indicated that most individuals had modified crania with the exception of burial no. 22 (the possible European), one
adult (no. 45) and a number of juveniles. The practice of cranial modification is typical
for Late Ceramic Age communities in Cuba and the Greater Antilles in general (Guarch
Delmonte 1996; Tabío and Rey 1985:143). Furthermore, excluding burials no. 22 and no.
36, all skeletons were found to be Amerindian (Guarch Delmonte 1996:21). The recent
re-investigation of the physical anthropological characteristics of the skeletal population
at El Chorro de Maíta, however, has shed new light on the composition of the group with
regards to number of individuals, ancestry and the practice of cranial modification, as is
discussed below.
A small number of burials contained objects of bodily ornamentation, ear spools,
necklaces and bracelets composed of stone, coral, or vegetable resin (Guarch Delmonte
1996:21). But the cemetery’s largest and most complex assemblage of ornaments was buried with skeleton no. 57, an adult female (Guarch Delmonte 1996:21). Beads of gold,
quartzite, coral and pearl, as well as laminar pendants made of an alloy of gold, copper
and silver, known as guanín, were recovered. Other objects made of these ternary alloys,
a material of great value amongst the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and handled
mainly by caciques (Oliver 2000), included a small bell and a bird’s head ornament with
South American stylistic affinities (Guarch Delmonte 1996:21-22). In 17 graves, small
metal tubes of about 29 mm in length were discovered, and were initially thought to have
been made of copper (Guarch Delmonte 1996:20). In one case (burial no. 25) the tubes
were attached to a metal disc covered in fabric, resulting in an ornament which was placed
by the leg of the individual.
A great variety of burial positions, including extended burials were found. However, a
supine position with the legs flexed to varying degrees was the most common, although
some individuals, such as no. 72B, were interred face down. There was a certain tendency
for orientation of the skeletons toward the north and the west. All burials appeared to be
primary interments, although many burials had been disturbed. This occurred most frequently in the central part of the cemetery, where the largest number of burials was located.
In some cases, rocks were placed on and around the bodies; in one burial the body was
placed on a bed or base of stones.

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

227

Unlike other known burial contexts in Cuba, at this site no ceramic vessels containing
food remains were reported, although in some burials ceramic and faunal (primarily pig
bones and marine shell) remains were present but were considered to be intrusive (Guarch
Delmonte 1988:163). In fact, there were no concentrations of remains to suggest domestic
use of the cemetery area.
The picture generated by the previous studies underlined the importance of the site
of El Chorro de Maíta for understanding indigenous funerary practices. The exceptional
nature of the cemetery, not only its large size but also the presence of ceremonial objects,
personal ornaments and its location in a settlement, is important as no others like it are
known in Cuba to date. This suggests a pre-eminence of this place and indicates that it may
have served as the seat or head of an incipient cacical organization. Supporting this interpretation is the possible existence of an elite group and of social differentiation inferred by
the restricted distribution of bodily ornaments in burials. Furthermore the use of guanín
and gold in one case is thought to be associated with the cacical elite (Valcárcel Rojas and
Rodriguez Arce 2005:141,146). Although it was previously considered that contact with
Europeans could have influenced certain visible aspects of the cemetery, such as the absence of cranial modification in certain (mainly juvenile) individuals and the practice of
extended burial positioning (Guarch Delmonte 1996:22), this subject was not explored in
depth and as a result the site became a symbol of the Native, and of indigenous religious
practices and mortuary customs.

Recent research
In 2005 the Departamento Centro Oriental de Arqueología, of the Ministerio de Ciencias,
Tecnología y Medioambiente, in Holguín, initiated a new investigation of the site under
the direction of Roberto Valcárcel Rojas. This work, although still in process, has benefited
from the collaboration of several international academic institutions, studying in parallel
different aspects and areas of the site. At the start of this investigation, radiocarbon dates
were obtained from the remains of two skeletons (Valcárcel Rojas 2002:142): burial no.
25 (conventional radiocarbon age 870 ± 70 BP, Beta – 148956; δ13C/12C = -19 %; 2 σ
calibration: Cal AD 1020 to 1280 (Cal BP 930 to 670)) and burial no. 39 (conventional
radiocarbon age 360 ± 80 BP, Beta – 148955; δ13C/12C = -19 %; 2 σ calibration: Cal AD
1420 to 1670 (Cal BP 530 to 280)). One additional date was secured from a space outside
of the cemetery in Unit 5, which indicated the pre-Columbian use of this part of the site
(conventional radiocarbon age 730±60 BP; Beta –148957; d δ13C/12C = -25.0 %; 2 σ calibration: Cal AD 1200 to 1320 (Cal BP 750 to 630) and Cal AD 1350 to 1390 (Cal BP 600
to 560)). In Unit 5, one skeleton was also found. In addition, the small metal tubes found
in some of the graves were found to be made of brass (Valcárcel Rojas 2002a), a metal first
brought to the Americas by Europeans.
These data confirmed both the pre-Columbian origin of the occupation and use of
the site and the post-contact dating of some of the burials. Taking this information into
account, subsequent investigations focused on determining the incidence of all aspects of
European influence in the development of the settlement and the cemetery. Investigations
of non-funerary spaces at the site directed by Roberto Valcárcel Rojas with Vernon James
Knight and A. Brooke Persons, of the University of Alabama (Persons et al. 2007; Valcárcel
Rojas et al. 2007) uncovered indigenous elements dating to the thirteenth through the
first half of the fifteenth century, and soil layers containing a range of European ceramics

228

communities in contact

known to have been used between 1490 and 1650 AD. Further investigations showed that
the presence of animal and ceramic materials of both indigenous and European origins in
the cemetery is more widespread than initially thought, and to date it is not possible to
explain their presence in the graves. These details require further attention due to their
potential for establishing a timeframe for certain burials. Some of the most revealing data,
however, have been derived from the study of materials directly associated with individual
graves, and from the re-analyses of the human remains utilizing new methods and techniques in collaboration with investigators from University College of London (UCL), and
Leiden University.

Metals
In 2005 Valcárcel Rojas, Martinón-Torres, Cooper and Rehren, analysed the small metal
tubes found in a total of 17 graves in the Wolfson Laboratories of Archaeological Sciences
at the Institute of Archaeology at UCL (Martinón-Torres et al. 2007; Valcárcel Rojas et
al. 2007). Six samples were investigated using energy-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (EDXRF), optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy with an attached energy-dispersive spectrometer (SEM-EDS). The analysis indicated that the samples were composed
of brass – as opposed to copper as originally thought – with a composition similar to
brasses obtained by cementation and produced in Central Europe during the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries, and were especially similar to brasses made in Nuremberg, Germany
(Martinón-Torres et al. 2007:200).
Considering the results of these analyses, specifically the similarity in composition between all of the analysed pieces, it is highly likely that the remaining metal tubes from this
site were also made of this type of brass. There is no evidence for the production of this
metal in the Americas using the technique of cementation before the arrival of Europeans
(Martinón-Torres et al. 2007:8). For this reason the tubes must have arrived at the cemetery following some form of contact between the local population and the Europeans.
The shape of the pieces of metal also support this interpretation; a review of the pictorial
sources, the data concerning European archaeological contexts from the fifteenth century
(Martinón-Torres et al. 2007:201) and the information from early colonial contexts in the
Americas (Deagan 2002:174-175), reveal that the tubes are elements used in European clothing during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, known as agujetas (or aglets), and used
in cords and shoelaces to fasten articles of dress.
Perhaps some individuals were buried with European clothes. The presence of fragments of cloth reported in burial no. 57 supports this idea; nevertheless the available evidence does not permit a clarification of the situation at this time. In the case of burial no.
25 it is clear that aglets were used to fabricate an indigenous ornament; in the other burials
the location of the aglets suggests that they were originally positioned by the wrists, near
the neck and chest, or next to the waist. These places coincide with the areas where aglets
would have been used in sixteenth century European clothing, but also with places on the
body where indigenous peoples wore ornaments. For this reason it cannot be excluded that
the aglets were obtained separately from items of clothing and used as an independent piece of personal ornamentation. In fact, the aglets, as independent objects were used by the
Spaniards after their arrival to the New World, in exchanges with indigenous inhabitants
(Álvarez 1977:92; Colón 1961:149), who attributed sacred qualities to brass that made
them practically as valuable as the alloy guanín (Oliver 2000:214). Possibly these ideas of

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

229

sacredness influenced the use of this metal to make the ornament found with burial no.
25.
The analysis of the metallic compositions of various objects of guanín and the smelting
techniques used to make them confirmed details which are referred to in the ethnohistoric
sources where such objects are mentioned (Martinón-Torres et al. 2007:197). The manufacture of alloys by smelting was not known in the Antilles at the time of the arrival of the
Europeans, and the origin of the guanín is believed to lie in South America (Valcárcel Rojas
et al. 2007:117,129). The bird’s head ornament also displays certain iconographic elements
that are commonly found on pectorals from the Tairona culture of Colombia (Valcárcel
Rojas et al. 2007:121). The latter perhaps confirms the exotic origins of these goods, one
of the reasons which must have contributed to their great value amongst these indigenous
peoples (Oliver 2000:199).
These data not only change earlier interpretations of the nature of the metal tubes, but
they also completely alter our perception of the cemetery by clearly demonstrating that a
substantial number of burials (at least 17) date to after the arrival of the Europeans and
thus that the process of contact between them and the indigenous peoples may have played
a significant role in the formation and use of the funerary space. On the other hand, the
presence of a set of guanín objects, the largest yet recovered in the insular Caribbean (although the precise dating of its arrival is unknown), indicates the important status of the
individuals who were interred with brass objects, and suggests the existence of a community with well-defined social distinctions at the moment of contact.

Aspects of mortuary treatment
The presence of a substantial number of brass tubes shows that these burials definitely
date to after the European arrival. A large number of individuals were found buried in an
extended, typically Christian position, in which the body is placed on the back, with legs
stretched, the hands crossed on the chest or the abdomen, and an east-west orientation
of the body. A large proportion of the extended individuals (40 percent) were found with
brass objects, enabling us to securely date them to after contact; however the remaining 60
percent could not be dated in this way. It is important to note, however, that this position
is infrequently reported for pre-Columbian burial sites in Cuba or sites with “Meillacan”
or “Chican” ceramics in the Greater Antilles in general (Crespo Torres 2000:157; Veloz
Maggiolo et al. 1976:317, note 4). On the contrary, in early European towns this was
the customary burial position, and it was even used to bury indigenous individuals at the
contact period sites of La Isabela in the Dominican Republic (Guerrero 1999:108) and in
Puerto Real in Haiti (Marrinan 1995:179). As many of the extended burials at El Chorro
de Maíta conform more or less to this type, and a large number of them contain European
brass, we suggest that the mortuary practices in these cases were influenced by relations
with Europeans, and therefore that the number of post-contact burials at the site may be
quite large. The presence of European burial positions at El Chorro de Maíta suggests substitution of local cultural practices (such as the typical indigenous flexed burial positioning) by new ones, tied to Christian burial rituals, perhaps an early expression of European
attempts to Christianize the local peoples. Contrastingly, the majority of burials containing
brass objects do not follow European burial traditions but indigenous ones, suggesting a
situation of persistence and continuity of the local cultural traditions. In fact, burial no.
25, who was originally radiocarbon dated to the pre-contact period, was found with a brass

230

communities in contact

ornament but was interred in an extremely flexed position. The shape and appearance of
the ornament are typical for indigenous culture and style, showing the adaptation of this
metal to indigenous cultural norms. This demonstrates persistence of indigenous culture
during the early contact period, and suggests dynamic interaction between indigenous and
foreign actors in which the indigenous population maintains certain cultural aspects while
adapting others according to European influences.
On account of the radiocarbon dating of burial no. 25 the cemetery was originally considered to be – in part – pre-Columbian (Valcárcel Rojas and Rodriguez Arce 2005:132).
The presence of brass in this burial, however, disqualifies this date. The supposed preColumbian origin of the cemetery is somewhat ambiguous at this point, as we must
consider the absence of similar cemeteries during this period in indigenous Cuban sites.
Furthermore, the substantial number of clearly post-Columbian burials at the site means
that we are confronted with the possibility that we are dealing with either an indigenous
burial area transformed into a cemetery through interactions with Europeans, or a cemetery established entirely after contact.

Demography and ethnicity
A reanalysis of the El Chorro de Maíta skeletal population was undertaken in June 2010
by Darlene Weston and significant alterations were made to the minimum number of individuals, and age and sex distribution reported by the original investigators. Adults were
aged based on morphological changes to the pubic symphysis (Katz and Suchey 1986;
Todd 1921a, 1921b), auricular surfaces of the os coxae (Lovejoy et al. 1985), and sternal rib ends (Işcan and Loth 1986a, 1986b) as well as the degree of cranial suture closure
(Meindl and Lovejoy 1985) and dental attrition (Brothwell 1981; Lovejoy 1985). Juvenile
age was determined using the stage of dental development (Smith 1991), long bone length
(Sundick 1978; Ubelaker 1989), and the degree of epiphyseal fusion (Scheurer and Black
2000). As it is not possible to determine the exact chronological age of an individual based
on morphological changes to the skeleton and teeth, adult and juvenile skeletons were assigned to standard age groups.
The biological sex of the El Chorro de Maíta skeletons was estimated based on various morphological traits of the skull (Ascádi and Nemeskéri 1970; Buikstra and Ubelaker
1994) and pelvis (Buikstra and Ubelaker 1994; Phenice 1969), in addition to metric traits
of the clavicle (Jit and Singh 1966), scapula (Iordanidis 1961), humerus (Stewart 1979),
and femur (Pearson and Bell 1917/1919; Stewart 1979). As is common practice, biological
sex was not assigned to the juvenile individuals due to a lack of secondary sex characteristics found in the skull and pelvis (Scheuer and Black 2000). Table 1 illustrates the revised
El Chorro de Maíta age and sex distributions.
In total there were 90 adults (67.7 percent) and 43 juveniles (32.3 percent). Among the
entire sample population, the majority (16.5 percent) were aged Adult (18+ years). The
adults were spread fairly evenly among the adult (18+ years), 18-25 and 26-35 age categories (16.5, 14.3 and 14.3 percent respectively), while amongst the juveniles, most (13.5
percent) were aged between 5-9 years. In the adult population, females outnumbered males, with combined totals of 44 (48.9 percent) and 39 (43.3 percent), respectively. When
the age and sex data for the entire skeletal sample are combined, the most commonly represented group is juveniles 5-9 years (13.5 percent) followed by males 26-35 (9.8 percent)
and adult females (18+ years).

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

231

Male
(M + M?)

%

Female
(F + F?)

%

Indeterminate

%

Total

%

>0 (foetus)

-

-

-

-

2

1.5

2

1.5
2.3

Age

<1 yr

-

-

-

-

3

2.3

3

1-4 yrs

-

-

-

-

8

6.0

8

6.0

5-9 yrs

-

-

-

-

18

13.5

18

13.5

10-14 yrs

-

-

-

-

6

4.5

6

4.5

15-17 yrs

-

-

-

-

6

4.5

6

4.5

18-25 yrs

7

5.3

11

8.3

1

0.8

19

14.3

26-35 yrs

13

9.8

5

3.8

1

0.8

19

14.3

36-45 yrs

5

3.8

9

6.8

0

0.0

14

10.5

46+ yrs

9

6.8

7

5.3

0

0.0

16

12.0

adult ≥ 18yrs

5

3.8

12

9.0

5

3.8

Total

39

44

50

22

16.5

133

≈100

Table 1 Age and sex distribution for El Chorro de Maíta.

The most notable feature of the El Chorro de Maíta skeletal population is the relatively
large proportion of children it contains. Typical attritional cemeteries, i.e. those that accumulate naturally over time, have a large proportion of infants, with a decreasing number
of deaths through to adolescence, and an increasing number of deaths through adulthood
to old age (Paine 2000). Mortality in the El Chorro de Maíta cemetery population peaks at
the 5-9 year age group and then remains fairly steady among the adults. A cemetery with
a large number of children is more consistent with a catastrophic cemetery, i.e. one where
mortality is due to a single or short-term catastrophic event, such as a natural or man-made
disaster or a disease epidemic. As the catastrophic episode typically strikes without regard
for age or sex, the cemetery population usually mirrors the once living population (Paine
2000). In the case of the El Chorro de Maíta cemetery, the temporal context of the site,
spanning the pre- and post-contact periods, suggests that epidemic disease may have been
an important factor in the structuring of the site’s mortuary profile.
When Europeans colonized the New World, they brought with them a plethora of infectious diseases previously unknown in the indigenous populations. Having no immunity
to these new diseases, the local populations often rapidly succumbed (Verano and Ubelaker
1992). A preliminary palaeopathological analysis of the skeletal population corroborates
the possibility that acute infection may have affected the population.
Through the use of craniometrics, it was possible to estimate the ancestry of three of the
El Chorro de Maíta individuals: no. 22, 45, and 81. Standard cranial measurements from
these three individuals were compared to Howells’ (1973, 1995) reference populations
using the FORDISC 3.0 software package (Jantz and Owsley 2005). Cranium no. 22 scored most similar to a White male, cranium no. 45 scored most similar to an African male,
while cranium no. 81 scored both equally similar to an African female and an Hispanic
female, suggesting that this individual may be of mixed ancestry. These results are interesting as they reflect the types of ancestral groups recorded as being present on Cuba in the
historical records at this time.

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Intentional cranial modification
Intentional cranial modification has previously been defined as “the dynamic distortion of
the normal vectors of infantile neurocranial growth through the agency of externally applied forces” (Moss 1958:275). The source of these forces can range from natural – due to
a genetic defect or disease – to artificial modifications, in which human actions create a
different shape of the cranium. A key distinction is made between intentional and unintentional modification. In the first instance, an altered head shape is created deliberately
using a modification device made of bandages or boards. In cases of unintentional modification the resulting head shape is an unexpected side effect of child rearing practices, such
as the use of cradle boards in North American indigenous societies or a prolonged supine
sleeping position in modern infants (Gerszten and Gerszten 1995:375; Littlefield et al.
2005:45-46).
Intentional cranial modification is practised in various cultures throughout the world.
Each society has different reasons for altering the head shape of their infants, but general
motivations can be deduced from archaeological, anthropological and ethnohistorical literature. Aesthetic reasons and gender differentiation can play a role. Occasionally, religious
motivations are mentioned, such as the desire to resemble the mountain of origin in certain Andean societies (Blom 2005:4; Schijman 2005:947). The expression of social rank or
status is often cited as a motivation (Dingwall 1931; van Duijvenbode 2010). Among the
Chinook of North America, an altered head shape expressed freedom and slaves were expressly forbidden to modify the heads of their children (Dingwall 1931:165-166). Finally,
the presentation of group identity can also be an important reason, as has been demonstrated among several Andean populations (Torres-Rouff 2003). Since intentional cranial
modification is a permanent alteration which must be initiated almost immediately after
birth, these group identities are often based on kinship: family, clan, lineage or ethnic identity (van Duijvenbode 2010). Essentially, all motivations mentioned here are expressions of
identity on a different level, representing parts of either individual or group identities.
An analysis of the practice of intentional cranial modification at El Chorro de Maíta
was executed by Anne van Duijvenbode in July 2009. This study used a sample of the
entire burial assemblage, based mainly on the preservation of the crania. The sample consisted of 54 individuals: 42 adults, 5 adolescents and 7 children. The sex distribution is
relatively equal with 20 males and 19 females whilst the remainder of the sample could not
be sexed.
Table 2 shows that intentional cranial modification is present in approximately 80 percent of the sample. Furthermore, 82.5 percent of the modified group has the same head
shape: fronto-occipital parallel modification (see Table 3). Figure 1 shows an example of
Intentional Cranial
Modification

Percentage of
Population

Number of
Individuals

Yes

79.6%

43

Possibly

3.7%

2

No

16.7%

9

Table 2 Prevalence of intentional cranial modification in
El Chorro de Maíta.

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

233

Type of Modification

Percentage

Number of Individuals

Fronto-Occipital Parallel

82.5%

33

Fronto-Occipital Vertical

2.5%

1

Occipital Flattening

7.5%

3

Frontal Flattening

7.5%

3

Table 3 Distribution of shapes encountered in El Chorro
de Maíta.

the fronto-occipital parallel modification which is typical for this sample. Overall, the
pattern at El Chorro de Maíta shows a large percentage of the population undergoing the
practice and little variation in the type of head shape. Further analysis of the data revealed
no significant correlations between head shape and sex or grave goods. A potential correlation between age and intentional cranial modification was observed. When the sample
is divided into age groups, 90 percent of the adult individuals have an altered head shape.
However, among the adolescents this is only 60 percent and among children 57.1 percent.
(van Duijvenbode 2010).
Individual 72B is the only exception in the homogeneity of shapes in the sample. This
female has fronto-occipital modification of the vertical subtype (see Figure 3). She was buried in an unusual position: facing down with a large stone on top of the legs. The different
shape of the skull suggests that this individual may not have been born in the region of El
Chorro de Maíta.
A number of motivations for intentional cranial modification were discussed earlier.
Gender differentiation can be ruled out, since no significant correlation was found between
sex and head shaping. The presentation of social status or rank is also unlikely. There was
no relation between grave goods and intentional cranial modification and the high incidence of similar shapes would mean that the status or rank would have to be shared by at least
80 percent of the population. Only one source was found discussing potential religious
motivations. Cuban researcher Herrera Fritot suggests that head shaping was an attempt to
mimic the head shape of a turtle, an important animal in indigenous Caribbean mythology
(in Rivero de la Calle 1960:252). No evidence supporting this hypothesis was found.
Aesthetic reasons are a possible motivation, since the altered head shape is considered
beautiful by indigenous informants in several colonial sources on the circum-Caribbean
(Davies 1666:338; Roth 1924:412; Stedman 1988:314). An alternative reason behind the

Figure 1 A: Lateral view of individual 51, B: Superior view of individual 91, C: Lateral view of individual 72B.

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practice is the expression of kinship-based group identities. The relatively high percentage
of modification among the population combined with one main type of modification is
connected to the expression of group identity in societies with a higher level of social organization (Torres-Rouff 2003). The pattern of intentional cranial modification in El Chorro
de Maíta encountered during this research is similar to her results and the relation to group
identity in the Greater Antilles, which had already been suggested based on ethnohistoric
sources and earlier archaeological research (Crespo Torres 2005:62), was confirmed by this
investigation.
Finally, the question remains why there is a significantly lower percentage of altered
crania amongst the children and adolescents. This unequal distribution was also noted by
the original investigators and Guarch Delmonte (1996:21) suggested that it might be related to a discontinuation of the practice due to European influence. This explanation is in
line with the known effects of intercultural contact on the practice from ethnographic and
ethnohistoric sources (van Duijvenbode 2010). However, without a sound internal chronology for the burials in the cemetery, this hypothesis was difficult to test as there was no
evidence that the children and adolescents concerned were contemporaneous. The recent
reanalysis of the skeletal assemblage has concluded that the demography of the population
suggests that the cemetery was the result of a single or short term event. This is the first
evidence that these burials could be considered contemporaneous and that the discontinuation of intentional cranial modification might indeed have been due to European influence on the local population.

Intentional dental modification
Individual 72B has been mentioned above for her remarkably different type of intentional
cranial modification in comparison to the rest of the persons interred at El Chorro de
Maíta, most likely indicating that she did not originate from that area. In addition to the
dissimilar type of intentional cranial modification, this individual presents a clear case
of intentional dental modification, which was identified during a dental anthropological
study of the human remains from this cemetery, conducted by Hayley L. Mickleburgh in
July 2009.
The practise of intentional dental modification has a long history in various cultures
across the globe for aesthetic, religious, ritual and socio-cultural reasons. A range of techniques for dental modification are known, such as filing, chipping, cutting, drilling, incising,
inlaying with stone materials, and extraction or ablation (Alt and Pichler 1998; Vukovic
et al. 2009).
Individual 72B’s dental modification affects the upper incisors and canines, with the
central incisors most prominently modified. All upper incisors and both upper canines
appear to have been filed extensively, considerably reducing the crown height and leaving
the occlusal surfaces extremely smooth and flattened. The central incisors have a further
modification of the occlusal surfaces at both the mesial and distal margins, in the form of
buccolingual grooves which extend across the entire occlusal surface. The grooves are 1.5
to 2mm wide and 1.5mm deep. In frontal view, the grooves appear to be semi-circular in
shape, however the pits of the grooves are in actual fact almost completely flat (see Figure
2). The remaining teeth in the dentition are unmodified and only very slightly worn. There
is no corresponding wear on the lower anterior teeth, excluding a masticatory activity as
the cause. Moreover, the striking symmetry and precision of the grooves and flattened oc-

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

235

clusal surfaces indicate that the modification must have been intentional as opposed to
activity-induced (i.e. the result of the use of the teeth as tools).
A small number of individuals with clear intentional dental modification has previously
been found in the Caribbean region, however in all cases these individuals were identified
as African slaves (Crespo and Giusti 1992; Handler 1994; Handler et al. 1982; Haviser,
personal communication 2010; Rivero de la Calle 1974; Stewart and Groome 1968). As
most of these burials were accidental discoveries, little information is available on their
precise archaeological context. However, what is clear is to the dental modifications in
these cases are significantly different in appearance and aetiology than the El Chorro de
Maíta case. The African modifications tend to be achieved by rough chipping or cutting of
the enamel, although more refined chipping also occurs. Furthermore, most African modifications resulted in a decidedly pointed or ‘fang-like’ appearance of the anterior teeth.
The general appearance and degree of craftsmanship displayed in individual 72B is more

Figure 2 A: Frontal view of the upper incisors and canines of 72B, showing
clear intentional dental modification, B: Oblique occlusal view of the upper
incisors and canines of 72B.

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communities in contact

Figure 3 Schematic representation of the intentional dental modification in 72B.

consistent with Mesoamerican types. When compared to known types of dental modification from Mesoamerica as documented by Romero, the central incisors can be classed
as category A4 with further A2 modifications of the occlusal surfaces, and the lateral incisors and canines as category A4 (Romero Molina 1986). No previous cases of this type of
dental modification are known for the pre-Columbian Caribbean islands. Considering the
absence of a precedent for individual 72B’s type of dental modification in the Caribbean
islands together with her dissimilar type of cranial modification, the possibility that this
individual originated in Mesoamerica must be considered.
Early studies into dental modification resulted in elaborate classification schemes still
in use today, often taking special care to separate the types of modification according to
their geographical origin (see Romero Molina 1986; Rubín de la Borbolla 1940; Stewart
1941). More recent studies on Mesoamerican sites in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and
Mexico have highlighted regional and temporal differences in both style and technique of
dental modification. Results point to the use of dental modification as a manner of expressing identification with a lineage, polity, ruler or region (Havill et al. 1997; López Olivares
1997; Tiesler Blos 2001; Williams and White 2006). Through comparison of the type of
dental modification present in the dentition of individual 72B with the types presented
in these early and recent works it appears that this type of modification is most compatible with types known for the Mesoamerican region of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.
In particular, this type of modification has been documented for Postclassic sites in Belize
(see Williams and White 2006). Considering the dating of the site of El Chorro de Maíta,
which falls generally within the Postclassic time period, we tentatively suggest that individual 72B originated from the mainland region of Belize.

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

237

Isotopic perspectives on diversity
Strontium isotope analysis has been widely applied to the exploration of migration from
the archaeological record (Beard and Johnson 2000; Bentley et al. 2007; Bentley et al.
2005; Bentley et al. 2002; Grupe et al. 1997; Knudson et al. 2009; Muller et al. 2003; Price
et al. 2008; Schroeder et al. 2009; White et al. 2007; Wright 2005). Its primary benefits
derive from the fact that it allows researchers to directly identify migrants (individuals who
are interred in a region which is isotopically different from that one in which they raised),
instead of relying on various proxy measures from the material record that characterizes
more traditional approaches to migration studies in archaeology. The primary limitation
of this approach is that only first generation migrants from isotopically different regions
are identifiable (Price et al.2006). Therefore, strontium isotope analysis alone (or any other
single isotopic system) does not usually permit the direct identification of geographic origins. For these reasons, strontium isotope analysis and similar biogeochemical approaches
are considered to be complementary with, various other macro-scalar approaches to migration and mobility which rely on human biological or material evidence.
The usefulness of strontium isotope analysis rests on several basic premises: 1) that
strontium isotope ratios (87Sr/86Sr) vary spatially; 2) that owing to broad similarities to
calcium, strontium replaces calcium in the inorganic fraction of human bone and dental
enamel; 3) that unlike bone, dental enamel is a relatively fixed tissue (once formed, it is
metabolically and isotopically inert) and thus does not undergo subsequent remodelling
throughout an organism’s lifetime, meaning that dental enamel preserves the isotopic signal of the time of formation or mineralization; and 4) unlike most other light stable isotopes, strontium does not undergo substantial mass dependent biofractionation, meaning
that very little alteration of isotopic ratios is observed as one moves through the food web
(Bentley 2006; Price et al. 2002).
All aspects of strontium isotope analysis were conducted by Jason Laffoon at the Faculty
of Earth and Life Sciences at the Free University Amsterdam, The Netherlands, according
to protocols described in Booden et al. (2008). Samples were analysed for strontium isotope composition with a thermal ionization mass spectrometer (TIMS, ThermoFinnigan
MAT 262 RPQ plus). All measurements were automatically corrected, using an exponential correction factor, to an 86Sr/88Sr value of (0.1194). For external reproducibility and
quality control, we used the certified reference material NBS (NIST) SRM-987 as our external standard. Over the period of analyses, analyses of this standard produced results of
(87Sr/86Sr mean value = 0.710236 +/- .000009 standard deviation, 2σ).
Herein we report on the data obtained from human (n=79) and faunal (n=8) samples.
All strontium data for human samples were derived from dental enamel, primarily from
premolars although other dental elements were analysed when a suitable premolar was not
available. The faunal samples were collected and analysed both to contribute to assessments
of the local range of biologically available strontium and to test the possibility of animal
mobility. Faunal samples from controlled excavations of this site include three hutia (family Capromyidae) remains and two land snails (family Camaenidae) which form the basis of
our initial local range estimates. In addition, samples from three domestic pigs (Sus scrofa)
were also analysed to determine if these animals were being raised locally or imported into
the site/region. Sr isotope analysis was conducted on dental enamel for the hutia and pig
samples and on shell for the land snails.

238

communities in contact

Results of our strontium isotope analyses from El Chorro de Maíta are displayed in
Figure 4. The human data is provided on the left side of the graph and is divided into four
categories; adult females, adult males, unsexed adults, and juveniles (unsexed). The faunal
remains lie on the right and are separated by type. We tentatively define the local range of
87
Sr/86Sr as approximately 0.70795-0.70880, based on the absolute range of the faunal data
(excluding the pig samples for reasons discussed below). This range is in rather good accordance with the majority of the human samples as would be expected if most local residents
were buried in or near their place of birth. Therefore the majority (n=60/79, or ~74 percent) of the humans are determined to be local. All three pig remains have been identified
as nonlocal and fall at or near the lower end of the range of human values.
As the geology of Cuba is rather complex (Pardo 1975) we have not placed too much
reliance on the geological literature in our estimations of strontium isotope variation. In
fact, owing to direct and indirect marine influences on the local ecosystem we support the
approach proposed by Price et al. (2002) whereby local range estimates primarily rely on
the analysis of local faunal remains. Since our local range estimate is based on a relatively
few number of samples (n=5) we consider it to be preliminary at this time. Research to
better refine the local range at the site itself including analyses of more local fauna samples
and to determine the extent of spatial variation of strontium isotope signals throughout
the region is ongoing.
Nonetheless, inferences can still be made based on the structure of the isotopic data patterns themselves and comparative correlations with other data sets from a contextual perspective. In other words, future research may suggest a slight broadening or shifting of the
local range but this does not appreciably alter our initial interpretations, for example the
fact adult males and females display broadly similar ranges and variance. However, there
are some observable differences between these two groups. For example, to date 8 of the 30
adult females or possible females analysed are identified as nonlocals (~27 percent), while
10 of the 28 males or possible males analysed are identified as nonlocals (~36 percent),
Females
females?

0,7112

Males
males?

0,7104

Unsexed
Adults

0,7096
87Sr/86Sr

Juveniles

0,7088
0,7080
0,7072
0,7064
0,7056

Figure 4 Strontium Isotope Results for El Chorro de Maíta.

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

239

suggesting slightly higher rates of male immigration relative to females. In addition, the
Sr values from the males display greater variance with the 3 lowest and the single highest
outliers. We interpret this as evidence of more variable geographic origins for these nonlocal males. In the absence of adequate chronological controls we cannot determine at this
time whether these patterns reflect either or both, pre- and post-contact mobility patterns,
although we might expect rather diverse origins for adult males in early contact period burial assemblages. Lastly, 16 of the 17 juveniles analysed have been identified as local. This
agrees with expectations based on the premise that juveniles are less likely than adults to
have migrated within their relatively brief life spans.
Other notable patterns are revealed through the comparison of the strontium isotope
data set relative to other lines of evidence, for example mortuary practices (burial location,
type, position, orientation) and dental and cranial modification practices. Of the adult
females analysed, only one (no. 81) clearly lacks cranial modification, she has been identified as an individual of possible mixed African and Hispanic ancestry and has also been
identified as a local. All four of the females interred with grave goods are locals, while none
of the nonlocal females have been interred with grave goods. Of the four adult males with
clearly unmodified crania, 3 are nonlocal, including no. 45 (discussed below), and one is
local (no. 22), an individual identified as being of European ancestry. It is interesting to
note that while brass tubes have been recovered from both local and nonlocal graves, ornaments of other materials such as stone and coral are exclusively found in association with
local individuals. Also, various burial positions (flexed, semi-flexed, and extended) occur
amongst local and nonlocal individuals.
The Sr isotope signatures of certain individuals require further elaboration. Burial no.
45 has an 87Sr/86Sr ratio of 0.711033, which is a clear outlier for this population and for
the Caribbean region in general. In fact, our analyses of several hundred Sr isotope ratios
from the West Indies, and a review of previously published Sr isotope results from archaeological and geochemical research within this region revealed no results for local individuals which are this radiogenic (high). We interpret this highly elevated signal as supporting
the hypothesis of a non-Caribbean origin for this individual, although this identification
must remain tentative until a database of strontium isotope variation for the Caribbean
region is developed, a project which is currently underway (Laffoon and Hoogland 2009).
Strontium isotope signals alone cannot definitively pinpoint a specific geographic origin
owing to the limitations of equifinality (Price et al. 2007). As burial no. 45 has been identified as a person of African ancestry, a comparison of his Sr signature with published Sr
ranges for various regions of Western Africa, from which enslaved migrants were known
to have originated from, may help to further narrow down this person’s geographic origins
(Schroeder et al. 2009).
Burial no. 72B has been highlighted as unique based on the presence of cranial and dental
modification types which are rare for this region but have been reported for Mesoamerican
groups, and a unique burial treatment for this assemblage (prone with large stones placed
on the lower extremities), as previously discussed. The 87Sr/86Sr ratio of individual no. 72B
is 0.707546, a result that also clearly identifies this individual as a nonlocal. Although this
signal is also consistent with natal origins in many regions of the Caribbean, the available
contextual evidence suggests a possible Mesoamerican origin for this individual. This Sr
isotope signature is consistent with geographic origins in the Yucatán Peninsula, particu-

240

communities in contact

larly with reported Sr ranges from the Southern Maya lowlands (Hodell et al. 2004; Wright
2005).
Lastly, all three Sr results from the domestic pig samples fall outside of our local range
estimate, suggesting nonlocal origins for the pigs also. This illustrates two important points
about this analytical technique; 1) that caution must be taken in the selection of ‘local’
faunal samples for local Sr range estimates owing to the possibility that certain species are
often highly mobile, in this case probably attributable to transhumance, and 2) that Sr isotope analysis thus offers the potential to investigate non-human mobility as well (Hoppe et
al. 1999; Schweissing and Grupe 2003).

Discussion and conclusions
Our multidisciplinary approach to the cemetery of El Chorro de Maíta has profoundly
altered the perception of this site, in part owing to a better understanding of the diverse
influences in the formation of this mortuary space. Understanding the nature of these diverse influences has been complex given the difficulties in establishing a chronology for
the burials.
The reanalysis of the human remains has indicated that the cemetery contained a much
higher proportion of children between 5 and 9 years of age than would typically be expected
for a cemetery assemblage which accumulated over a long period of time. These findings
seem to indicate a single or short-term catastrophic event, such as a natural or man-made
disaster or a disease epidemic. The latter is most likely, considering the temporal context
of the site and the results of the preliminary palaeopathological analysis. Furthermore,
another important result of this study has confirmed the speculated European origin of
individual no. 22, while also identifying no. 45 as an individual of African origin and no.
81 as a mestizo of mixed African and European ancestry.
The identification of European brass provides a reliable chronological indicator, showing that the cemetery was maintained during the post-Columbian period and that many
of the burials date to this time period. The latter corresponds well with the observed catastrophic mortality profile of this burial population, as increasing contact during this period
led to the exchange of diseases to which the indigenous population had no resistance. At
this time in El Chorro de Maíta traditional indigenous mortuary practices were combined
with new cultural influences, such as extended (Christian) burial positions and processes of
adoption of European materials into indigenous culture. The predominant fronto-occipital
parallel cranial modification, typical for Late Ceramic Age cultures in the Greater Antilles,
appears to have served as an indigenous group identity marker at El Chorro de Maíta. Its
absence in individuals’ no. 22, 45, and 81, together with clear evidence of different ancestry, may have been a visible marker of their foreign affiliations. In other cases, especially
amongst the children, the absence of cranial modification could be related to changes generated by European actions. Individual 72B is the only person showing a different type
of cranial modification (fronto-occipital vertical). This female also has remarkable dental
modification of the upper front teeth. These two traits together are unique among known
indigenous burials from the Caribbean islands, and along with this person’s strontium isotope signature appear to indicate a Mesoamerican origin (possibly Belize). Although we do
not have reliable chronological data for this individual at this time, it is possible that her
presence here is tied to colonial activities, including the forced migration of indigenous
slaves to the Caribbean and Cuba from different regions of the Americas (Deagan and

Valcárcel Rojas et al.

241

Cruxent 1993:94). Similar causes can be suggested for individual no. 45, although in this
case the burial is clearly post-contact and the origin is most likely Europe or Africa, areas
from which early slaves were taken to the Antilles.
The strontium isotope analysis shows that the bulk of the population at El Chorro de
Maíta is of local origin, while it has also revealed the presence of a substantial number of
nonlocal individuals of diverse geographic origins, including at least two possible long
distant migrants or foreigners originating from outside of the Antilles. Furthermore, the
presence of individual no. 81 indicates genetic mixing between the different groups represented at the site.
The resulting picture generated by the mixture of cultural elements at El Chorro de
Maíta is that of a dynamic situation where conscious incorporation of certain European
cultural elements by the indigenous population took place.
Historical and archaeological investigations (Deagan and Cruxent 1993:94-95) have already indicated that in many early Caribbean colonial settlements indigenous populations
were grouped together with Europeans, Africans and mestizos. However, the fact that individuals of indigenous Caribbean, Mesoamerican, African, European and mixed ancestry
were all buried in the cemetery of El Chorro de Maíta indicates a degree of diversity that
has hitherto not been identified in the Caribbean archaeological record. While many questions still remain, our new integrated osteoarchaeological approach has shed light on the
brief but turbulent period of changing cultural and social dynamics at El Chorro de Maíta.
This period appears to have been characterized primarily by a high degree of cultural, social
and biological diversity. Further investigation of the site of El Chorro de Maíta, including
the radiocarbon dating of individual no. 72B, will lead to an even better understanding of
a period in the history of the Caribbean which is still poorly understood.

Acknowledgements
This research is funded in part by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research
(NWO) grants “Communicating Communities” (project number 277-62-001) and Teeth
Tell Tales (project number 021.002.097) as well as the Leiden University Fund LISF grant
Keeping up Appearances (09059).
We would like to thank Corinne Hofman and Menno Hoogland, Alejandro Fernández,
and the entire Caribbean Research group, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University. We
extend our gratitude to Professor Gareth Davies and the Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences
at the Free University, Amsterdam for their assistance with strontium isotope analysis.
We are also indebted to the Holguín Provincial Monuments Commission, the National
Vicepresidency of Monuments and the National Subcomission on Archaeology in Cuba.
Finally, this project would not have been possible without the support of the Departamento
Centro Oriental de Arqueología and of the Museo El Chorro de Maíta.

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C onflicting

cosmologies

The exchange of brilliant objects between the Taíno of
Hispaniola and the Spanish

Floris W.M. Keehnen

First contact between the Taíno peoples of the Greater Antilles and the Spanish resulted in
the convergence of two very distinct cultures. An attempt was made to bridge the undeniable and clear differences in worldview, valuations of wealth and aesthetic cognition through
the exchange of objects. A major focus of these exchange relationships was on objects
whose glittering surfaces appeared equally attractive to both sides. Attractive for different
reasons though: the Spanish were mainly interested in their economic value, while for the
Taíno shiny objects had a symbolic meaning as part of a much broader context in which
these were considered to contain powerful cosmological forces. This paper shows the very
different cultural attitudes towards shiny matter and explains how this led to the creation
of new social and material worlds in the course of the contact period.
El contacto inicial entre los pueblos Taíno de las Antillas Mayores y los Españoles tuvo
como resultado una convergencia de dos culturas muy distintas. Se hizo el intento de superar las diferencias, evidentes e innegables de su cosmovisión, el valor otorgado a la riqueza
material y la concepción estética mediante el intercambio de objetos. Muchos intercambios
Taíno-Españoles se enfocaron en objetos con superficies brillantes, los cuales por esta característica parecieron igual de atractivo para los dos grupos. Sin embargo, atractivos por
motivos distintos: los Españoles principalmente tenían un interés económico, mientras que
para los Taínos la importancia de los objetos brillantes surgió de un contexto más amplio en
el cual fueron considerados de poseer poderosas fuerzas cosmológicas. Este artículo revela
las diferentes actitudes culturales ante estos materiales relucientes y explica como estos actitudes resultaron en la creación de nuevos mundos sociales y materiales durante el período
de contacto.
Le premier contact entre les peuples Taínos des Grandes Antilles et les Espagnols a abouti
à la convergence de deux cultures très distinctes. Une tentative fut faite pour combler les
différences indéniables et manifestes dans la cosmologie, l’évaluation des richesses et la
cognition esthétique par le biais d’échange d’objets. Ces relations commerciales se sont
surtout concentrées sur des objets dont les surfaces brillantes étaient tout aussi attractives
pour les deux parties. Attractives pour différentes raisons, pourtant: les Espagnols étaient
principalement intéressés par leur valeur économique, alors que pour les Taínos, ces objets
scintillants possédaient un sens symbolique comme faisant partie d’un contexte beaucoup
plus large dans lequel ils étaient considérés avoir de puissantes forces cosmologiques. Cet
article montre les attitudes culturelles très différentes envers ces matières brillantes et explique comment elles ont conduit à la création de nouveaux mondes sociaux et matériels lors
de la période de contact.
Keehnen

253

Introduction
The encounter between the Europeans and the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean – referred to as the Taíno – on 12 October 1492, the day that Columbus made a landfall in the
‘New World’ on the Bahamas, is one of the most illustrious examples of culture contact.
The first encounter was followed by reconnaissance voyages to the Greater Antilles and the
founding of La Navidad, the first Spanish settlement in Hispaniola – nowadays divided
into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Two worlds that were not previously aware of each
other’s existence came into contact and began adopting elements of each other’s material
culture (Deagan 2004).
From the onset of contact the Taíno and the Spanish started to exchange all kinds of objects in a friendly fashion. The basic assumption is that the Spanish were mostly interested
in gold, while the Taíno were willing to trade for pretty much whatever was given to them.
The Europeans were used to operate within the Mediterranean interaction networks linking Europeans with Africans and Asians. In an attempt to find a westward route to Asia,
Columbus had looked forward to acquire access to an overwhelming abundance of oriental
spices and gold. However, the Spanish were unexpectedly confronted with the highly developed interaction networks operating among the peoples inhabiting the Caribbean area
(Hofman 2008). The situation they encountered caused them to change their expectations
and tactics (Las Casas 1992).
The author’s current MA research aims to characterize the role of European material
culture in intercultural contacts between the indigenous peoples of the Greater Antilles and
the Europeans during the early contact period. In so doing, it is expected to elucidate the
nature of the social relationships maintained between these cultures and how these came
to influence indigenous culture. One cannot make full sense of the process, events and
outcome of contact between cultures without a thorough understanding of all the actors
involved. An important key to understand the cultures in question is to find out what objects they valued the most and why it were exactly these objects that were preferred. Most
likely, part of the answer can be found in tracing the objects that were used in exchange
relationships. The importance of the trade in these objects correlates with the relative value
of these objects in their respective exchange systems. An important question to be answered
is: why did the Taíno value the things that were given by the Spanish? Was their unfamiliarity with the objects alone, the unknown origin and the odd appearance the objects had
for the Taíno, reason enough to value the European objects (Helms 1988)? Perhaps, but
what was the reason for differences in the value given to the objects (Las Casas 1992)? This
paper concentrates on the importance of a particular class of objects used in the exchange
contacts between the Spanish and the Taíno: objects with gleaming surfaces. In general,
there seems to have existed a special interest in these objects, both before (Boomert 1987;
Oliver 2000; Rodríguez Ramos 2010) and during contact (Cooper et al. 2008; Martinón- 



Rafinesque, a Franco-American naturalist, adopted the term ‘Taíno’ for the original inhabitants of the Greater
Antilles as he mistakenly believed that this was their “collective proper name” (Rafinesque 1836:163). In fact
many different ethnic groups inhabited the islands, who most likely used the names of the local (chiefdom) polities to which they belonged as self-ascriptions (Rouse 1948). Anthropologists and archaeologists have continued
to use the term ever since, however.
Within a year this initial friendliness turned into violence, and mutual mistrust arose. Due to forced labour,
sickness and harsh treatment the original population was decimated in a couple of decades (Deagan and Cruxent
2002).

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Torres et al. 2007; Saunders 1999; Vega 1979). How valid is this observation and how can
we explain the Taíno attraction to these objects?

Different cognitive processes
The exchange relationships between the colonists and the colonized in the early contact
period were heavily influenced by the “socio-cosmic universes” of the involved actors: two
different cultures that did not share the same perceptions tried to come to the best possible mutual understanding, not seldom resulting in a complete misunderstanding of which
they were often unaware (Mol 2008). These perceptions can however be interpreted as constructs of more fundamental differences in cognition; the convergence of dissimilar cultures
being a collision of different cognitive frameworks. These peoples had different worldviews
and different modes of thought. Arguably, these differences can be traced back to the places
of origin of those peoples. The way human perceptions of value develop depends on the
socio-cultural context in which a person is raised. Recently, a socio-psychological study of
Nisbett et al. (2001) has proposed that social organization is influential in two basic ways
for establishing different modes of thought: “indirectly by focusing attention on different
parts of the environment and directly by making some kinds of social communication patterns more acceptable than others” (Nisbett et al. 2001:294). For example, Nisbett and her
colleagues contrast Western and Eastern thought, and question the assumption of an existing universality of basic cognitive processes among all human groups. Their basic premise
shows that people from the East are “holistic, attending to the entire field and assigning
causality to it, making relatively little use of categories and formal logic, and relying on
‘dialectical’ reasoning, whereas Westerners are more analytic, paying attention primarily to
the object and the categories to which it belongs and using rules, including formal logic, to
understand its behavior” (Nisbett et al. 2001:291).
Although this study has been conducted among Westerners and Asians, the same oppositions can be observed between Westerners and other peoples around the world (e.g.
Haviser 2008; Reichel-Dolmatoff 1981, 1996). The socio-cultural context of a culture affects the way by which the world is known in that particular culture; how the socio-cosmic
universe is constructed, and how worldview affects the way of thinking. The oppositions
between the Oriental and the Western mental templates are much the same as those between Amerindian people and Europeans. Systems of Amerindian classification and meanings are based on animistic beliefs and a holistic cosmovision. Different objects, phenomena, materials etc. are seen as belonging to the same class or group, sharing roughly the
same significance and meaning. On the contrary, the western classification is taxonomic; it
divides the world into kinds of physical matter, which makes us hierarchically distinguish
animals from plants, and minerals from trees (Descola 1996).
The “New World” encounter thus was not only a collision of different cultures, but
even more so a clash between peoples with totally different mental templates. The unfamiliarity with the socio-cosmic universe of the other is demonstrated in numerous occasions during the early contact period (Mol 2008). Amerindians all over the Americas who 

Different modes of thought follow different logics. These modes of thought are culturally specific, which means
this are not innate differences that are somehow caused by any “racial” distinctions. Hereby I wish to stress the
mental unity of humanity in which there is no variation in mental faculties whatsoever among people around
the world.

Keehnen

255

were confronted with the arrival of Europeans, tried to fit the newcomers and the objects
and ideas they brought with them into existing cultural and social categories. The contact
between the Spanish and the Taíno needed to be inserted in existing cosmovisions and
cognitive patterns, which was not an easy process. During the contact period there was the
continuous problem of how to treat these newcomers and how to classify them according
to the indigenous system of value; the question was whether they were equivalent to commoners, elites, or gods (Viveiros de Castro 1998; Wilson 1990). This uncertainty is reflected in the initial responses to the presence of the Europeans that were logical and sensible
from a Taíno point of view, but might have seemed strange and inexplicable to Europeans
(Altman and Butler 1994).

Glittering exchange
Different cognitive perceptions, worldviews and systems of value brought along differences in aesthetic cognition (Haviser 2008). An attempt was made to bridge these differences through objects; objects as mediators between the distinct mental and physical
worlds of the New and the Old World peoples (Miller 1987). Although there were clear,
visible distinctions in aesthetic expressions between these peoples – their worldview being
translated into their material culture – at first instance it was very difficult to define which
objects were proper to give, and what objects in return would have been of commensurate
value. Perhaps, experiences of seemingly uneven exchanges of earlier gift-giving with native
groups along the western coasts of Africa were wrongly taken as indications that notions
of value and property were non-existent for the peoples who had been encountered in the
non-western world. The intentions of the giving of gifts in the early colonial Caribbean
– a well established practice among both parties – most likely were different: the Spanish
tended to see gifts in their economic value, calculating and intended to acquire the greatest return for the least expenditure, whereas the Taíno gifts were more heavily imbued with
symbolic meaning, often gestures of wealth, respect or dominance (Axtell 1992). Social
valuables were given and received by both parties but only interpreted and understood in
their own cultural contexts. The unfamiliarity with the socio-cosmic universe of the other
led to many objects being given (especially to the Spanish) of which the meaning was not
completely understood by the receiving party. Very soon, however, the peculiarities of the
other became more fully understood, although still not completely (Mol 2008). This process of hybridization resulted in a focus on objects that appeared equally attractive to both
sides because of a single characteristic: a shiny surface. To both cultures this characteristic
was already important in their own cultural contexts, yet the reasons for this were very different. Next to gold and silver, the Europeans valued only a couple of other shiny objects,
like pearls and emeralds, that had high exchange rates at the European markets. For the
Amerindians, however, shiny objects and the interplay of light on their surfaces were considered much more important and formed integral parts of daily life (Saunders 1999). 

These objects also served political functions and were imbued with symbolic meaning as they were used as gifts
at the royal courts of Europe (see Saunders 1999:251-253 for the role of pearls in Europe; and e.g. Zemon Davis
2000).

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Worlds of brilliance
A glittering appearance and shiny surface turned an object into a social valuable for the
Taíno. Valuing objects of light is, however, not restricted to the Taíno or the Caribbean.
Nicholas Saunders has called this phenomenon “the aesthetic of brilliance” and shows its
prevalence across the Americas (Saunders 1998, 1999, 2003). Its expression differs through
time and from culture to culture. The materials used to exemplify this aesthetic, along
with the technologies preferred to fabricate objects from these materials, varied, as well
as the philosophies that influenced these choices. Although cultural traditions could be
very different from each other, they were based upon a common theme in Amerindian
thought – caused by a collective cosmovision that is believed to have been shared by many
of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (Saunders 1998:226-230). Here, the concepts
of cognitive theory are applicable, suggesting that this collective cosmovision is a direct
result of the underlying cognitive patterns shared by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the
Americas; a mental template that consists of a holistic mode of thought that is influenced
by social organization. Shared socio-cultural settings would have geared them for this “aesthetic of brilliance”; definitely this was an aesthetic cognition that differed from that of
the Europeans!
Understanding the structure and concepts of the Amerindian cosmovision is a prerequisite if one aims to explain the enchantment brought about by these shiny matters. Ideas
concerning the spiritual and creative power of light were integral parts of Amerindian
cosmovision. Through time there are numerous cultural elements, myths and stories that
imply the presence of a spiritual brilliance in the worldview of these peoples. It seems that
a general shamanic worldview existed across the Americas, in which light, brilliant colours
and glittering matter were indicators of the presence of spirits or a supernatural essence
(e.g. Furst 1976:46,131; Kensinger 1995). The power of light was a source for strength and
energy. The social, material, and cosmological worlds were imbued with this power, functioning to symbolize, but also generate and maintain life. For example, the reflective property of snowy mountains and lakes indicated the presence of portals by which the world
was connected with the spirit realm (e.g. Reichel-Dolmatoff 1981:28). For the Inca, light
brought structure and order to the universe (Classen 1993:38). Many other cultures across
the Americas used strength-giving light in their battles (Czitrom 1994:193,196; González
1992:215) and symbolic forms of war (Vennum 1994:36). The accumulation of brilliant
objects displaying the manifestation of light served as indicators of wealth and power for
Taíno elites and noblemen (Oliver 2000:205-209).
The opposite is also true; where light signified life, darkness was death, illness, misery
and cosmic disorder, for instance with disease or during eclipses. Among the Aztecs a person’s soul was luminous if healthy and living right (López Austin 1988); otherwise it would
turn dark (Gingerich 1977:324; Ruiz de Alarcón 1984:162). This opposition makes the
power of light an ambivalent force that is transformational and therefore possibly dangerous. Only shamans, priests and others who had mastered these forces through their knowledge and performance of rituals, were therefore able to configure the cosmic (Saunders
1999:245). The Amerindian cosmological world was not only governed by analogical reasoning, but also put more emphasis on multi-sensory experiences – in which one sensory
stimulus would have led to automatic experiences in a second cognitive pathway – than
Europeans. This is, for instance, experienced by shamans when using hallucinogenic drugs
to enter a specific state of consciousness. This synaesthetic aspect to their shamanic world-

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view shaped the meanings attached to the lights, sounds, tastes, and smells of ordinary life.
These were quite contrary to European experiences, which were mainly focused on visual
stimulae (Saunders 1999:245; see also Classen 1990; Howes 1991:3-5).
Brilliance was deemed a powerful and sacred force, and was as much present in daily
life as it was infused in the world around them. It manifested itself in many natural phenomena, like the sun, the moon, water, ice and snow, clouds and rainbows. The same can
be said about many natural materials (Saunders 1998:226-230). In the Caribbean, for
example, brilliant colours and shininess can be found in all kinds of translucent shells, of
which the Lobatus spp. and Olivia spp. are good representatives as they were often used for
decorative purposes. Also feathers and plumage from colourful parrots and macaws had the
connotation of brilliance. The fact that these materials occurred naturally in animated and
sacred landscapes contributed to their value. Because these materials possessed the positive spiritual and creative power of light, artefacts that were made from such matter were
by definition given the same status (Saunders 1999:246). Artefacts with such a value were
often made from shell, polished wood and minerals like jade. Headdresses were composed
of macaw feathers displaying a wide range of colours. Also objects fabricated from metal alloys possessed this inner sacredness, as will be discussed below. Saunders (1999:246) states
that “making shiny objects was an act of transformative creation, converting - in a sense
recycling - the fertilizing energy of light into brilliant solid forms via technological choices
whose efficacy stemmed from a synergy of myth, ritual knowledge and individual technical
skill”. Because the energy in the natural materials needed to be transferred to the objects
that were fabricated from them, special meaning was given to the production of shiny
items: the physical forms were embodiments of the power of light. The same importance
was given to the exchange and ritual display of these objects. Many of these items were
reserved for elites and caciques as to display their status and justify their divine origin and
power (Oliver 2000:296). Their unique ability to mediate between the different worlds was
represented by the objects they wore.
Furthermore, the extensive use of these objects in exchange relationships across the
entire Caribbean area indicates their importance as social valuables (e.g. Hofman et al.
2007). These exchanges can be seen in a diachronic perspective, originating from early
inter-island transactions of personal adornments fabricated from various forms of “social
jade”, most notably serpentinite and nephrite. The earliest evidence for this has been found
in archaeological context on the island of Puerto Rico, with dates for the sites containing
these lithic materials going back to 2500 BC (see Rodríguez Ramos 2010 for a complete
overview of sites). Natural sources have been located mainly in the northern Lesser Antilles
(Knippenberg 2006). For the subsequent two millennia no evidence has been found for any
exchange of these stones across the Caribbean sea. Nevertheless, the foundations were laid
for the development of long-term macro-regional interactions (Rodríguez Ramos 2010).
This is expressed by the transition to the “Iridescent period” (500 BC-AD 500/700) – a
term proposed by Rodríguez Ramos (2010) – for which non-local stones like amethyst,
aventurine, quartz, beryl, peridot, and garnet have frequently been found in Huecoid and
Saladoid deposits; exotic materials that are sourced to northern South America (Siegel and
Severin 1993:77). Exquisite micro-lapidary work consisting of jadeitites, turquoise and a
variety of other gemstones were absorbed in the long-distance exchange networks operating among the peoples inhabiting the circum-Caribbean area (e.g. Boomert 1987; Hofman
et al. 2007; Rodríguez Ramos 2010). A case in point for the dispersal of shiny matter in

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this period is exemplified by the first documented find of a guanín (see below) artefact at
the site of Maisabel, Puerto Rico (ca. AD 100), which is associated with the archaeological Hacienda Grande period (Siegel and Severin 1993). This find indicates that already in
early ceramic times the material must have been desired by the inhabitants of the Greater
Antilles, who otherwise would not have invested time and effort to acquire it over vast
geographical distances. The distribution pattern of shiny materials in this period presumes
a “shared underlying significance accorded to brilliant media” (Saunders 2003) among the
peoples inhabiting the circum-Caribbean area; although local reinterpretations were possible, shared ideological traditions made the exchange of these items possible (Rodríguez
Ramos 2010).

European influences
However, as previously mentioned, during early contact times European values and ideas
concerning shiny matter were conflicting with those of the Taíno; the major ambition of
the European colonists being the acquisition of gold. The material was only valued from
a commercial standpoint, its mineralogical purity and weight as an index of convertible
wealth. Conversely, the most prized indigenous metal was guanín (an indigenous term),
which is an alloy of gold, copper and silver. The mineralogical impurity of this alloy made
it of little value to Europeans. The qualities of indigenous valuables were often neglected by
the Europeans and these objects became revalued according to a European system of commercial exchange. Saunders describes it effectively as “where previously an object’s value
had depended on a mixture of the general and personal meanings attached to it, it was now
judged by physical characteristics alone” (Saunders 1999:246). So, with the arrival of the
Europeans, changing social and material worlds were created by a re-contextualization and
revaluation of indigenous material culture. The attitude towards certain objects changed
and resulted in redefined relationships between the Europeans and indigenous peoples (e.g.
Pugh 2009). The exchange of objects, the negotiation of different value systems, and the
exchange of cultural information can be seen as part of a continuous process of creating
social relationships. Related processes of acculturation and transculturation were a direct
result of these contacts (Levinson 2006).
Unintentionally in the first place, lots of objects that were brought along by the Spanish
displayed characteristics that were valued by the Taíno. Certainly not all objects that were
shipped to the Caribbean were first intended to serve as trade items. However, they soon
came to be so, when the Spanish realized the significance of particular items to the Taíno.
Pieces of majolica, glassware, beads, and hawk bells were assigned with a divine or spiritual character, for example. Especially, the reflective property of glass made the material
highly valuable; the Taíno were even happy with a broken piece of it since it could be used
as a mirror. The Spanish ceramics had, unlike their own pottery, brilliant colours, and resplendent glazed enamel, which was therefore highly appealing to the islanders. Beads were
made of glass, amber, stone and carnelian; all crafted in such a way as to display a gleaming
surface. Small green beads seemed to have frequently formed part of the cargo and were
called abalorio’, “a term that generally refers to beads of little value” (Deagan 1987:157).
The spiritual brilliance and the power of light that were from a Taíno point of view inextricably bound up in the materials of the aforementioned objects arguably formed important
reasons for them to value these European items. Most likely, because of the materials the

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European objects were made of, many other imported items must have attracted Taíno attention as well.

The sacredness of metals
A special class of objects with a shiny surface became particularly important with the arrival
of the Europeans; metals – especially copper-alloys – attracted the attention of the Taíno.
Studies of Bernardo Vega (1979) and José Oliver (2000) have focused on the symbolism
and classification of metals from an emic perspective. These works provide a useful background to understand the relation between the aesthetic of brilliance and the cognitive
significance of copper alloys seen from an indigenous point of view. In the case of metals
it was however not only their (often reddish) colour and shininess that accounted for their
brilliance that were valued, but other characteristics seem to have played an equal role here.
Remoteness, heavenly connotations, but also smell and taste are considered to be (at least)
equally important reasons for their valuation (Helms 1988; Oliver 2000). This statement
touches upon the concept of guanín, which I will discuss below in more detail.
Although endowed with a glimpse of brilliance, the least valued metal was pure gold
(or caona in native terms), probably because of its natural occurrence. Quite contrary to
European ideas, the Taíno only used gold for good appearance rather than wealth. The
carefully crafted composition of gold with other materials, for instance nuggets of gold
used as inlays in wooden statues (duhos) was valued the most. It was the configuration of
gold with other (more valued) materials that gave it its power and that enhanced the value
of the total display of regalia. The material itself was significantly less esteemed and less
sacred than metal alloys that were based on copper. More important therefore were latón
or brass (copper and zinc), billón (copper and silver), and guanín or oro de baja ley (gold,
copper, silver) (Oliver 2000:198). One thing we can immediately conclude from this is the
existence of a discrepancy among the values the Taíno gave to ‘things of brilliance’; normal
gold did not have the same attraction, despite having the same brilliance! Presumably, thus,
an aesthetic of brilliance alone is not enough to account for pre-Columbian indigenous
valuations of metal.
The metal that was the most special and valued was guanín. Its distant provenance and
association with remote places made it a very attractive material (Helms 1988). Guanín
does not occur naturally, but was a manmade product that had to come from the South
American mainland. For the acquisition of the material some suggest a direct route across
the Caribbean Sea, while others think a route through the Lesser Antilles is more likely.
For the Taíno there was no way of understanding how this amalgamated material could
have been formed: unlike the people from South America, the Taíno did not know the
technique of melting. The alloy therefore had connotations with a divine origin and the
spirit world. In contrast to gold and copper, which were found on Hispaniola, guanín was
thus considered to be a very rare material. Usually guanín artefacts were worn by caciques
in combination with other adornments such as caona, shell-beaded belts or quartzite necklaces (cíbas). These regalia displayed their chiefly power and their privileged role as media

Among these were religious and ritual objects like crosses, medals, amulets, and other items believed to possess
magical properties that were taken for Spanish magico-religious purposes as well as for the indoctrination of the
indigenous peoples with the Catholic Church. Probably some of these were used as gifts rather than for use by
the Spanish. Finger rings, nails and coins would have had the same connotations (Deagan 2002:37-38, 87).

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tors between the profane and sacred worlds (Bray 1997; Martinón-Torres et al. 2007:202;
Oliver 2000:203-209).
The importance of brass only becomes noticeable after conquest, since it was undoubtedly imported by the Spanish (Vega 1979). Las Casas mentions the indigenous material’s
denomination as being turey, referring to something from the sky, as their name for sky
was turey (Las Casas 1992:I-287). This material shared most characteristics with guanín. It
originated in a remote place, the celestial disk (Siegel 1998), and was therefore imbued with
sacredness. Linguistically, guanín and turey “correlate with and allude to the quality of iridescence that was imputed to a divine and remote origin” (Oliver 2000:206). Furthermore,
its peculiar appearance and smell further added to its sacred character (Oliver 2000:198199). One of the items the Spanish used for exchange purposes were brass hawk bells or
cascabeles. The Taíno were very much fascinated by these trinkets because the material they
were made of was thought to be guanín. Also the sound they produced when tinkling was
appealing (Vega 1987:44-46). Cascabeles that were tied together resembled the Taíno rattlelike musical instruments that they used during their social and religious areitos (Las Casas
1992:I-286-287). In the course of the contact period the Spanish cunningly misused the
Taíno value system by exchanging these European trinkets in order to have the least possible expenditure for the greatest return. In this manner, the Spanish obtained exchange rates
of 200 caona for 1 guanín (Bray 1997). It is known that the Spanish promoted the import
of guanín from the South American mainland to be used in their exchange with the Taíno
on the Greater Antilles, as to acquire pure gold in return (Martinón-Torres et al. 2007).

The essence of things guanín
So, the explanation of the value of guanín cannot be restricted to its worth as a gold-copper-silver alloy alone. As mentioned earlier, Amerindians divided their world into classes
comprised of different objects, phenomena, materials etc. that share roughly the same
significance and meaning. The metal guanín was therefore only one material belonging
to a whole class of guanín. Many more things were considered to be guanín: stars, the
loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), the Cuban bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), and
specific flowers (e.g. Cassia occidentalis and Passiflora foetida) (Oliver 2000). In Taíno mythology even a South American off-shore island is mentioned that is called Guanín, which
is also the term being used by the Taíno when referring to the south (Sauer 1966:61; Vega
1987:44). It is postulated by Oliver (2000) that the relation of these ‘things of guanín’ is
demonstrated by the linguistic evidence from Taíno vocabulary. The prefix gua- ­seems to
return in denominations of many indigenous social valuables, like guanín, guacamaya (the
Taíno word for parrot), guaní (the hummingbird), and guaíza (or shell face); names of
chiefs and mythical beings contain the prefix as well. Also the words for the turtle (caguamo) and the tagua-tagua plant (i.e. Passiflora foetida) contain the morpheme -gua-. The
symbolic importance of trees from the Guaiacum sp. may be just another addition to this
intriguing class of valuables (Ostapkowicz, this volume). Possibly we can speak of the essence of ‘things guanín’ (Oliver 2000). These objects or phenomena all possess the aesthetic
of brilliance characterized by: a reddish (-purplish) colour, like the guanín metals; an ap

Next to their personal names, Taíno caciques and principal men often bore several honorary titles, which “almost invariably contained a reference to precious metals, celestial bodies, and their shiny qualities” (Oliver
2000:205).

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pealing iridescence, like the feathers of the macaw; or resplendent and shiny qualities, like
the natural pearls or manufactured beads. In addition they also share other characteristics
such as a sweet, pungent or peculiar smell, like some plants or an exotic origin. A combination of these treasured characteristics would have produced a greater effect; this could have
occurred in a natural combination, but more often were actively brought together through
the recombination of separate materials into one object.

Indigenous adaptations
As mentioned before, the European re-contextualization of objects had a dramatic impact
for the Taíno attitude towards certain objects. Saunders (1999) has demonstrated this by
applying a biographical approach to pearls in order to document the changing social and
material worlds. A similar process takes place in the Caribbean where the function of the
hawk bells was altered in the course of the contact period when they began to serve as a
measure for tribute payments (Las Casas 1992:I-437). The significance these objects had
in the value system of the Taíno changed drastically. It appeared that in the end, differences
between Amerindian and European worldviews and systems of valuation were not reconcilable (Saunders 1999:244). As a result, changing attitudes towards objects like the cascabeles
are characteristic of the changing relationships between the Spanish and the Taíno.
Nevertheless, positive changes occurred as well, when it was possible to incorporate
cultural elements of the other into already existing cultural categories. Brass, for instance
was conceptually transformed from a European functional metal into a symbolic and ornamental turey in Taíno cosmology (Martinón-Torres et al. 2007:202). Similarly, sherds
of majolica and glass beads have been found in Taíno burial contexts (García Arévalo
1990:271). It seems that their glittering appearance was one of the most important reasons
that made the objects attractive to the Taíno. Most likely these items now were funeral offerings as the dead were buried with their most prized personal possessions. Taíno beads,
referred to as cibas, were now being replaced by the Spanish beads. Religious syncretism
and symbolic substitution of lots of items seemed to have been common phenomena in
the contact period.

Concluding remarks
This paper has offered different strands of argumentation that are thought to be helpful
in the determination of the role European material culture played in the exchange relationships between the Taíno and the Spanish in the early contact period. With different
cognitive frameworks mutual understanding of the other’s value system was hardly possible: processes of hybridization resulted in reinterpretations of the materiality of the objects the other used to exchange. The very different attitudes to light and brilliance, as a
result of conflicting cosmologies, exemplify the stark contrast and incommensurability of
Amerindian and European systems of value.
For the Taíno the items that were brought along by the Europeans fitted in their already
existing socio-cultural framework, since these objects displayed all of the symbolism an
object would be valued for. An important characteristic, substantially adding to the value 

In 1495 Christopher Columbus formally established the tribute system on Hispaniola. It forced Taíno caciques
to collect of each Indian over fourteen years of age “enough gold to fill a small bell every three months” (Las
Casas 1992:I-437).

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of the object, was the “aesthetic of brilliance”. Its shininess indicated its nature as a powerful cosmological substance, while the ability to produce it was regarded as a supernatural
and magical talent (Axtell 1988:131; Saunders 1999:247). However, as the different indigenous valuations of pure gold as opposed to copper alloys have indicated, we must be
cautious with giving too much explanatory power to the concept of the “aesthetic of brilliance”. Shininess would have been an important quality of objects in pre-Columbian value
systems, but remoteness (in geographical and symbolic distance) and esoteric knowledge
(Helms 1988) for example would have been given similar importance.
The valuation of things that have a gleaming surface (or are otherwise considered to
be brilliant due to their direct relation with other shiny phenomena) is closely linked with
the esteem that was given to the class of “things guanín” that Oliver (2000) has discussed.
These are not identical concepts however, since not all the values attributed to “things
guanín” correspond to those attributed to objects displaying the “aesthetic of brilliance”;
rather, the “aesthetic of brilliance” can be interpreted as a principle characteristic of the
essence of “things guanín”, a concept evolved from a particular emic cognitive perception
of the world.
The attraction the Taíno had for the European objects has been proposed to originate
from shared socio-cultural settings among the peoples inhabiting the circum-Caribbean
area (Rodríguez Ramos 2010). This provided them with the same cognitive makeup responsible for the development of a holistic cosmovision and way of thinking, a product
of symbolic reasoning. The “aesthetic of brilliance” (Saunders 1999) and the essence of
“things guanín” (Oliver 2000) are concepts that are constitutive of the value given to a
specific class of objects and/or materials that westerners do not recognize as autonomous
categories of value. These concepts would have developed through time by materializing
them into objects that circulated across the Caribbean Sea. Future work is needed, however, in order to map more sites across the circum-Caribbean area that provide us with a
more detailed diachronic perspective on the role of shiny objects. Only more data and a
comparative analysis towards the mainland will help clarifying the attractiveness of this
intriguing class of materials. Finally, in order to fully account for the specific values the
Taíno gave to the European objects the local social dynamics of the contact period have to
be studied in more detail.

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In

sickness and in health

Possibilities for studying the social and cultural
implications of treponemal disease in the Caribbean area

Rachel Schats

Treponemal disease or treponematosis is a highly visible and very painful disease. It starts
out as a skin disease, but eventually also the skeletal system of the infected individual
becomes infected, making this disease also visible in the archaeological record. The disease has been noted in many Caribbean skeletal assemblages. Due to the high visibility of
treponematosis it is unlikely that it would have gone unnoticed in prehistoric societies. It
is interesting to study how the disease was socially and culturally perceived and dealt with.
Based on ethnohistoric sources and material culture from the Caribbean area, it appears
that treponemal disease had special significance in prehistoric Caribbean societies. This
paper shows that the study of social and cultural implications of disease has great potential
also outside the Caribbean area.
La enfermedad treponemal o treponematosis es una enfermedad muy visible y dolorosa.
Comienza como enfermedad de la piel, eventualmente afectando el sistema esquelético del
individuo enfermo, al final produciendo la visibilidad de esta enfermedad en contextos
arqueológicos. La enfermedad se ha observado en muchas assemblajes de esquelétos en el
Caribe. Debido a la alta visibilidad de treponematosis, es improbable que no hubiera sido
notado en sociedades prehistóricas. Es interesante estudiar cómo la enfermedad fue socialmente y culturalmente percibido y enfrentado. De acuerdo con documentos etnohistóricos
y la cultura material procedente del área del Caribe, hay indicaciones que la enfermedad
treponemal tenía significado especial entre las sociedades del Caribe prehistórico. Este artículo argumenta que el estudio de implicaciones sociales y culturales de la enfermedad
puede ser de mucho valor también fuera del área del Caribe.
La maladie tréponémale ou tréponématose est une maladie facilement reconnaissable et
extrêmement douloureuse. Elle commence par une maladie de peau, puis se propage au
squelette de l’individu contaminé, rendant cette affection également visible dans le registre
archéologique. Cette maladie a été notée dans bon nombre d’assemblages osseux caribéens.
Vu l’évidente reconnaissance de la tréponématose, il est peu probable qu’elle ait pu passer
inaperçue dans les sociétés préhistoriques. Il est intéressant d’étudier comment la maladie
a été perçue et traité socialement et culturellement. A partir de sources ethno historiques
et archéologiques de la région caribéenne, il apparaît que la maladie tréponémale ait eu
une signification particulière au sein des sociétés préhistoriques de la Caraïbe. Cet article
montre que l’étude des implications sociales et culturelles de la maladie a aussi un grand
potentiel en dehors de l’aire caribéenne.

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Illness and disease
In archaeology, disease is generally studied through pathological lesions left within the
human skeleton, a research area which is termed palaeopathology. Unfortunately for archaeologists not all diseases leave their marks on the human skeleton. Joint diseases such
as arthritis, infectious diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis, and even certain tumours
can leave clear marks on the human remains. Treponemal disease is an infectious disease
which can also leave marks in the skeleton. It refers to a set of four diseases, venereal syphilis, yaws, endemic syphilis and pinta, which are similar in nature and caused by the same
bacterium, Treponema pallidum. All four progress in three stages; starting with minor, but
highly infectious and contagious, skin lesions and ending, except for pinta, with severe
bone lesions in the third stage of the disease (Farnsworth and Rosen 2006:181-182). Due
to the bone deformations associated with the third stage of this disease, it can be clearly observed in the archaeological record, if the preservation of the skeletal material is adequate.
However, not all infected individuals will develop the bone lesions; in only 5-10 percent
the disease will manifest itself in the bones, making the archaeological dataset significantly
biased (Ortner 2003:275). Based on osteological studies conducted in the Americas over
the past years, it appears that this disease was prevalent on the American continent before
the arrival of Columbus (Powell and Cook 2005; Schats 2010). Furthermore, also on the
Caribbean islands, signs of a treponemal infection have been noted. Bone lesions consistent with the disease have been found in many skeletal assemblages from both the Greater
and Lesser Antilles from AD 400 onwards. It appears that there are no skeletal assemblages
showing the signs of a treponemal infection before AD 400, except for a very early case
from the island of Cuba dating to 8000 BP (Vento and Gonzalez 1996:33). The fact that
there are no other early cases can be due to the lack of many skeletal assemblages from before AD 400. However, it can also be related to the arrival of a new disease in the islands
from the mainland (Schats 2010:55-60).
In American and Caribbean archaeology treponematosis has received much attention,
mainly because archaeological data can contribute to the ongoing discussion on the origin
of the disease. At the moment its origin and antiquity are highly debated. Skeletal evidence
from the Americas supports the Columbian hypothesis, which states that treponematosis
came from the New World and travelled to the Old World as a result of contact with the
native inhabitants (Baker and Armelagos 1988:703-704). Therefore, archaeologists often
only noted the presence or absence of the bone lesions associated with a treponemal infection. Hardly any attention was paid to the social and cultural implications of the disease. Considering its high visibility and contagiousness, along with the fact that it is very
painful, it seems unlikely that it would go unnoticed within a past Caribbean society. It
is important to study how such a disease was socially and culturally perceived of and dealt
with. Every human society responds to disease and distress in a distinct way and also conceptions of the disease and theories of causations clearly differ between cultures. It is extremely interesting to look beyond the bone lesions and to assess what the disease meant
for individuals suffering from this illness in the past and which ideas and conceptions are
associated with it. In order to understand the social and cultural impact and perception of
the disease, theories and frameworks that are currently used in the field of medical anthropology will be applied. 

Pinta is a solely dermatological condition; therefore, this disease will not be taken into account in this paper.

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Medical anthropology is the study of medical phenomena, such as illness experience
and healing, as they are influenced by social and cultural factors. This research field is
highly interdisciplinary, drawing on anthropology and sociology as well as on medicine and
other health professions. Ethnomedicine, a subfield within medical anthropology, focuses
on health practices in relation to the larger social system. This research field used to be limited to primitive or folk medicine in non-Western countries. However, at present, the term
ethnomedicine refers to the health system of any society, including those of the Western
world. While Western medicine is primarily focused on the diagnosis and treatment of a
disease, the study of ethnomedicine focuses on the totality of medical beliefs and practices
in a society. Much attention is given to the roles of healers, patients, and family members,
and to the symbolic and personal experiences of disease. The ethnomedical theories and
frameworks are very useful for addressing social and cultural implications of treponemal
disease (McElroy 1996:1096).
The ethnomedical perspective makes an important distinction between disease and illness. Leon Eisenberg (1977) has defined this division as follows: “illnesses are experiences
of disvalued changes in states of being and in social function; diseases are abnormalities in
the structure and function of body organs and systems” (Eisenberg 1977:11). “Disease” is
a medical term, indicating a deviation from medical norms. “Illness” on the other hand,
is culturally constructed; it is the experience of the impairment or distress, as culturally
defined. The cause of an illness is not necessarily straightforward; it may lie in the social or
spiritual realm. An illness is subjectively experienced and is associated with specific meanings and narratives.
The narratives that are created in response to an illness event can be extremely useful in
analysing the social and cultural perception and impact of a disease. An illness is a disruption in life which appears to lack all connection to earlier events: the sense of temporal continuity is ruptured. The narratives, defined as the personal accounts/experiences of the patients, have the ability to form a new context in which the illness will fit. As Hydén (1997)
points out: “Narratives can provide a context that encompasses both the illness event and
surrounding life events and recreates a state of interrelatedness” (Hydén 1997:53). By illustrating the illness in the form of a narrative the illness events and symptoms are contextualized by incorporation within the same biographical framework. In this way, symptoms
of the disease are integrated within social life and the diagnosis and prognosis make sense
within that framework.
The illness narrative of treponemal disease has been previously neglected by archaeologists. Solely based on archaeological data the reconstruction of the illness aspect of the
disease would be very difficult. Fortunately, archaeological data from the Caribbean area
can be complemented with ethnohistoric sources, which allows the study of personal and
societal conceptions associated with and reactions to the disease. Moreover, by analysing burial practices, it is possible to research further implications the sickness may have
had. This paper discusses the possibilities of studying social and cultural implications of
treponemal disease. It focuses on treponematosis as an “illness” and studies the possibilities
to reconstruct the illness narrative associated with the disease on the basis of ethnohistoric
sources and material culture.

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Ethnohistoric sources
The Caribbean area is blessed with a wealth of ethnohistoric sources. Fernández de Oviedo
and Bartolomé de las Casas provide a large amount of information on the daily life of the
Taínos living on the island of Hispaniola (Lovén 1935; Oviedo 1959a, 1959b). The work
of Ramon Pané, a missionary who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to the island of Hispaniola in 1493, presents a unique account of the beliefs and rites of the Taíno
people (Pané 1999). Moreover, also on the Lesser Antilles chroniclers provided interesting
narratives about the inhabitants of the islands. The works of for example Raymond Breton
and Caillé de Castres contain gripping information on the lives of the island populations.
Interestingly, many of the early chroniclers mention the presence of treponemal disease in
their accounts (Schats 2010). Therefore, the ethnohistoric sources have been used as evidence in the ongoing syphilis debate. However, the accounts of these chroniclers are also
extremely useful in reconstructing the social and cultural implications of the disease. This
will be illustrated with parts from the accounts of Oviedo and Pané. For details on treponematosis from other ethnohistoric accounts see Schats (2010).
In his Historia General y Natural de las Indias Oviedo describes a skin disease with symptoms similar to treponematosis as “mal de las indias” meaning the Indian disease (Oviedo
1959a:53). Oviedo was able to identify the disease due to the fact that he had witnessed the
syphilis epidemic in Europe. The Spanish term for treponematosis at that time was bubas
which translates as sores, a term describing the symptoms of the disease. The Taíno themselves also developed a name for the disease, yaya, meaning sore in Island Carib language
(Lovén 1935:538; Oviedo 1959a:53-55). Interestingly, in Taíno mythology Yaya is a very
important being. Yaya is an old man with whom the first area of creation began (Arrom
1997:68). Next to the name of the disease, Oviedo describes the remedies the Taíno had
developed for this affliction. According to Oviedo the medicine they used was the wood of
the Guayacan tree. The wood of this tree is very strong and hard and it is often referred to
as a “holy” tree. The Taínos used this tree to make their idols and duhos. For the treatment
of the disease, splinters of the tree were boiled in a certain amount of water. When more
than half of the water evaporated, the pot with the decoction is removed from the fire. The
afflicted individual had to drink this potion on an empty stomach every morning for approximately 20 days. Next to the drinking of the guayacan potion, the diseased people had
to stick to a diet. The patients were not allowed to eat any meat or fish because these foods
were thought to be very harmful. Oviedo states that this remedy has cured many from the
disease (Lovén 1935:539-540; Oviedo 1959a:364-365; Oviedo 1959b:18-19,88-90).
In the book Relación de Fray Ramon de las Antigüedades de los Indios Ramon Pané describes
the mythology, including the origin myth, and religion of the Taíno people. Interestingly,
a disease with symptoms resembling treponematosis plays a role in the myth. Deminán
Caracaracol was the first of four sons to be born out of Itiba Cahubaba. Caracaracol translates as the scabby one; it is said that he was born with a very rough skin. Even though Pané
does not link his affliction directly with syphilis, Stevens-Arroyo (1988) relates his skin
disease to congenital syphilis. Next to the rough skin, Deminán Caracaracol was suffering
from a big ulcer on his back which resulted from a mixture of guanguayo (tobacco) and
cazabe (cassava bread) which was thrown upon his back by Bayamanaco in an attempt to 

Mothers infected with syphilis can pass the disease on to their children who then show characteristic skeletal
deformities.

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heal him. This healing ceremony did not work and the ulcer on his back became extremely
painful and swollen, and as Pané states: “the swelling grew so much that he was about to
die” (Pané 1999:16). The three brothers of Deminán Caracaracol opened the ulcer and out
came a female turtle. From this part of the myth it becomes clear that the disease is viewed
as serious, however, some people, like Deminán Caracaracol were able to overcome it. The
disappearance of the symptoms appears to have been a sign of fertility (signified by the
female turtle) and shamanistic power (Stevens-Arroyo 1988:124-129). Stevens-Arroyo further shows that the turtle has direct relation with the disease. He states that a taboo rested
on the consumption of fresh-water turtles called ‘hicoteas’ because the eating of these turtles
would result in syphilis (Stevens-Arroyo 1988:129). Interestingly, this food taboo also appears to have been present in the Lesser Antilles (Schats 2010:79-81)
Another, more direct, reference to syphilis is made by Pané when he discusses the origins
of the Taíno people and social order. In sacred time the Taíno people lived in the mythical
Cave of Caçibajagua. During this period, everything normal is inversed; the social order
of the Taíno had not yet been established. Many of the proto-Taíno humans tried to leave
the cave to create social order, but on every occasion they were punished for leaving the
cave. One day, one of the men, Guayahona, is able to escape the cave without punishment.
He leaves the men behind and takes all the women with him. The group travelled to the
island of Matinino, where he leaves all the women and sets out to the magical destination
Guanín. During his journey, Guayahona rescues a woman from the sea who according to
Pané “gave him great pleasure, and at once he sought many lavations to bathe himself because he was full of those sores we call the French disease” (Pané 1999:9-10). The woman,
named Guabonito, placed him in a guanara, which is a separate place. While Guayahona
was in guanara, he was cured of his sores (Oliver 2000:209-212; Pané 1999:8-10).
In this passage it is evident that Pané attributes the source of treponematosis to sexual
relations with Guabonito. In light of what Pané knew from Europe this makes perfect
sense. The disease was already very prevalent there and was attributed to sexual intercourse
(Baker and Armelagos 1988:707-708). José Juan Arrom provides a different interpretation
to the origin of the disease. Arrom argues that there is an important piece missing from
the account of Pané (1997:76). The first Taíno people, who were living in the caves, were
all brothers and sisters. Without contact with other human groups, they were forced to
mate amongst themselves to reproduce. This act was a clear violation of the prohibition of
incest. Arrom argues that they were punished for this violation with the disease that Pané
terms the ‘French disease’ (Arrom 1997:76). Guayahona left the cave with all the women
to put an end to the incest. Interestingly, it appears that, in contrast to the analysis of Pané,
Guayahona was already suffering from the disease before meeting with Guabonito. While
in guanara, Guayahona washed himself with güeyo plant he took with him from the cave
and was cured from the disease (Arrom 1997:76).
As Arrom, Stevens-Arroyo also interprets the taking of all the women by Guayahona as
establishing marriage rules among the Taíno. By leaving the cave with all the women and
then abandoning them again on the island of Matinino, Guayahona creates the rule of exogamy. However, even though Stevens-Arroyo does not state how Guayahona contracted
his disease, he does not view the disease as punishment for incest in the past nor does he
think that Guayahona contracted the disease because of sexual contact with Guabonito. 

In parts of Cuba guanara is the name of a dove which lives in remote mountain areas (Arrom 1999:10)

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Stevens-Arroyo identifies Guabonito as the sister of Guayahona. Moreover, he views
Guabonito as a hero spirit and a representative of feminine culture just as Guayahone represents the masculine culture. He states that Guabonito is repulsed by Guayohona because
of his disease, and in fact denies sexual intercourse and thereby reinforces the exogamy rule.
Stevens-Arroyo argues that the healing which follows is more likely to be a mythological
event than an actual medical process (Stevens-Arroyo 1988:193-196).
José Oliver (2000) offers a different interpretation. He argues that the disease is in
fact a result of sexual intercourse with Guabonito, who Oliver also identifies as his sister.
However, he does not view the disease as a punishment for this incestuous relation. Oliver
argues that the disease is metaphorically used to express a condition which is directly associated with gold. After the healing took place in guanara, Guabonito presents Guayahona
with guanínes and çibas, which signify the initiation into the office of the cacique. In
this way, the disease can be seen as being part of a rite of passage. Because of the disease,
Guayahona was able to become a chief and acquire the chiefly attributes (Oliver 2000:209212). This idea was already discussed by López-Baralt in 1976. She divided the narrative
of Guayahona into several phases and show that these fit in the pre-liminal, liminal and
incorporation phase as defined by Van Gennep in 1901 (López-Baralt 1976:39-45).
In many of the interpretations, Guabonito is often seen as the source of the disease
and the illness is frequently related to sexual contact. I think that another interpretation
is also possible. I feel that it is very likely that Guabonito solely has a role as healer in the
myth. Women associated with healing and coming from the water are a common theme in
Amerindian mythology (Boomert 2010:32). Moreover, the disease is not always sexually
transmittable. Venereal syphilis is the only disease caused by the Treponema pallidum bacterium which spreads through sexual contact. If the disease mentioned in the myth is one of
the other treponemal variants or a totally different disease, it does not have to be related to
sexual contact at all. I feel that this may have been a misinterpretation of Pané or the other
chroniclers. As said above, in Europe a similar disease was clearly related to sexual contact,
which is why the disease witnessed in the Caribbean was also immediately attributed to
sexual relations by the early European chroniclers. I do agree with Oliver and López-Baralt
that it is likely that the disease was part of a rite of passage into a chiefly status. However,
it is possible that Guabonito, sister or not, just plays the role of healer in the myth and is
not the source of the disease.
The interpretations above show that the disease takes an important place within Taíno
society. It appears that the sick individuals may have been destined to become a shaman
or a chief. This is clearly illustrated by both the myth about Deminán Caracaracol and
Guayahona. From societies all over the world it is known that disease episodes often precede
or even predispose an individual for a position as a shaman or chief (Duin, personal communication 2010). This is also illustrated by a modern example from Hmong culture as described by Anne Fadiman (1997). Fadiman discusses the case of a Hmong girl who suffers
from severe epilepsy. The parents are clearly worried about their daughter because they try
to heal her with home medicine and drugs prescribed by medical doctors. However, next to
the dangerous connotation this disease has, this particular illness, qaug dab peg – “the spirit
catches you and you fall down” –, is also perceived as a disease of distinction within their
culture. Many individuals who are known to have had the disease became shamans later
in life. The parents perceive the disease as something dangerous but also as a great honour
that their daughter has been chosen to become a healer when she grows older. As Fadiman

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points out: “seizures are thought to be evidence that they have the power to perceive things
other people cannot see, as well as facilitating their entry into trances, a prerequisite for
their journeys into the realm of the unseen” (Fadiman 1997:21).
I feel that, based on the myths described by Pané and the treatment described by Oviedo,
something similar may be the case for treponematosis in Taíno societies. Individuals suffering from the disease are not extremely special, but the actual disappearance of the symptoms, the overcoming of the disease, signifies that these persons are destined for greatness.
Moreover, in the case of Guayahona the disease appears to have been a clear part of his
rite of passage, as also López-Baralt and Oliver have argued. After overcoming the disease
Guayahona was recognized as a chief. I feel that the sickness and the separate place may be
associated with the liminal phase of the rite of passage, as also López-Baralt (1976) argued.
The acquiring of the chiefly attributes is part of the third phase of the rite of passage in
which Guayahona is re-incorporated in society with his new status and identity.

Figure 1 Sabre-shin deformity (Perine et al. 1984).

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Material culture
From an archaeological perspective, it is extremely interesting to study whether, and if so,
how treponematosis is reflected in material culture. If treponemal disease is indeed associated with shamanism and caciques as argued above, then it might be possible to find representations of this disease on ceramics or other artefacts made by the Taíno people. At the
moment, the evidence for a material presence of treponematosis is not particularly strong.
However, there are two examples in which ceramics may indeed show signs of a treponemal
infection.
The effigy vase representing Deminán Caracaracol may be the clearest example of a
representation of the disease. As discussed above, it is argued that he was born with syphilis
and was cured from it by his brothers who broke the swelling on his back. This big ulcer is
associated with the symptoms that are described in relation to treponemal disease.
A common feature of other Taíno effigy vessels is the thick calves that the represented individuals are showing. This aspect might be related to treponematosis. As explained
above and as can be seen in Figure 1, in the third stage of the disease the bones of the sick
individual are affected in a very characteristic way. One pathognomonic deformation associated with a treponemal infection is the sabre-shaped tibia. In this case, the tibia is disfigured by an abnormal deposition of new bone which gives it a very thick and curved appearance which can be seen on the image below. This deformity may have been depicted on the
effigy vessels. However, the binding of the legs just below the knee, which was a common
practice, may also result in the same, although less pronounced, thick appearance.

Discussion
The aim of this paper was to discuss the possibilities for researching social and cultural
implications of treponemal disease in the Caribbean area. Treponematosis is an excellent
disease to research since it is visible in the archaeological record, but also very noticeable during life. Based on the ethnohistoric sources it becomes clear that a disease closely resembling treponematosis was indeed something that did not go unnoticed within a
Caribbean society. Most early chroniclers in the region mention the presence of the disease
and describe the treatment plan developed by the indigenous inhabitants. Oviedo illustrated specific treatment used in a case of treponemal disease on the island of Hispaniola.
The work of Pané interestingly demonstrates the presence of the disease in Taíno mythology. The origin heroes Deminán Caracaracol and Guayahona seem to have been affected
by treponematosis.
It appears that treponemal disease had special meaning throughout the Caribbean. The
disease is associated with special beliefs, remedies and even myths. This indicates that this
particular disease was possibly more significant than any other disease they might have
been suffering from. From the discussion of the sources above it is possible to asses the
meanings which the disease may have had for the Caribbean inhabitants. The disease appears to be something dangerous and painful; the indigenous inhabitants had developed
special remedies for the disease. Moreover, a food taboo associated with this disease appears
to have been present. Even though remedies for the disease existed, it is very likely that
none of the affected individuals were actually healed by the treatment. However, based
on the mythology it seems possible that the sick individuals could have become cured
from this disease. Medically speaking, it is possible to seemingly overcome the disease.

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Treponematosis involves a latent period into which some of the affected individuals enter.
During this period, which can last the lifetime of the individual, there are no visible symptoms; therefore it appears that this person is healed. I would argue that individuals suffering from this disease were not particularly special. It seems more plausible to argue that the
individuals who were able to overcome the disease would be considered to be more special.
This notion is further substantiated by the myths described by Pané.
This analysis of the social and cultural implications of treponemal disease has hopefully
shown that this type of research has great potential, not only for treponematosis but for
other diseases as well. However, solely based on archaeological data this type of research is
extremely difficult. The main arguments and interpretations are based on the ethnohistoric
sources. Future research should therefore combine ethnography, ethnohistory and archaeology to be able to come to the best possible understanding of how treponemal disease
was socially and culturally perceived and experienced in the Amerindian societies of the
Caribbean area.

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Stevens-Arroyo, A.M.
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Schats

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T hrough

the eyes of the chronicler

Adriana I. Churampi Ramírez

This paper is an analysis of Bartolomé de Las Casas’s description of Hispaniola in his
Apologética Historia Summaria, in which we demonstrate that reading this document requires knowledge of Aristotle’s Politics. The Aristotelian model of the organization of a civil
society is basic to understanding the nature of de Las Casas’ descriptions. Only a complementary reading of both texts will elucidate the complex western philosophical discussions
that animated the apparently simple description of the houses and villages in Hispaniola
by de Las Casas.
Este artículo analiza las descripciones de La Española hechas por Bartolomé de Las Casas
en su Apologética Historia Summaria. Demostramos que leer la Apologética requiere conocer
La Política de Aristóteles. Para entender la naturaleza de las descripciones Lascasianas, el
conocimiento del modelo aristotélico de organización de una sociedad civil es fundamental. Sólo una lectura paralela de ambos textos posibilita la comprensión de la compleja
discusión filosófica occidental, trasfondo de la descripción de casas y aldeas de La Española
realizada por de Las Casas.
Cet article est une analyse de la description d’Hispaniola faite par Bartolomé de Las Casas
dans son Apologética Historia Summaria. Nous démontrons ainsi que la lecture de ce document nécessite la connaissance de La Politica d’Aristote. Le modèle aristotélicien de l’organisation d’une société civile est fondamental pour comprendre la nature des descriptions
de de Las Casas. Seule une lecture complémentaire des deux textes pourra éclairer le débat
philosophique occidental qui a animé la description apparemment simple des maisons et
des villages d’Hispaniola par de Las Casas.

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Introduction
To obtain useful information from colonial documents, better known as Chronicles of
the Indies, one is required to start with a process of textual selection and then perform an
exercise in intertextual reading. The first task of the ethnohistorian is to establish criteria
to narrow the number of documents. Since the arrival of Europeans to America narratives on this new geographical area and the way of life of the Native Americans has been
profuse; around 200 chroniclers are recognized by modern scholars. Only some of them
wrote about the Caribbean area and an even more limited group was actually present in
the American continent, which narrows the number of documents. It is also necessary to
remember that to analyse a text implies reconstructing its context to enable us to place it
within its appropriate frame of reference. Distortions in the interpretation occur when
we read fifteenth century documents based on our modern concepts. A “city” or a “village” are for us simple terms but they probably did not mean for Columbus what we now
understand as such. Texts also have an undeniable historical context; most of our colonial
sources were written as an answer to official requirements of the Spanish Crown and have
questionable independence and autonomy. This is the case with Columbus’ Diaries, which
is why on arrival to Spain they were compared with the documents sent by an official of the
Spanish Administration, who was posted amongst Columbus’s crew with the specific task
of documenting all his observations. In this way the Spanish Crown ensured the presence
of a second document to compare and check the veracity of the Admiral’s version. Not an
unusual measure if we take into consideration the huge investment that Columbus’ trip
meant for the Spanish Crown. Economical, political and religious facts played a role in the
production of such texts. Not to mention the unpredictable element of the personality of
every traveller or writer. This personality was reflected in their version of the story (let’s just
remember Columbus’ certainty of his arrival in India or his later quest for Paradise). The
Chronicles of the Indies are far from a transparent description by eye witnesses, they are a
construction. The fifteenth century narrative had political, economic, social and religious
interests complicating the already difficult task of describing the encounter with a new
unknown world. This short introduction is meant as a schematic description of the different elements a reader of the chronicles has to take into consideration before addressing the
contents of the documents or beginning the process of deconstruction that may in the end
provide useful information.
One of the traditional documents consulted on indigenous Caribbean history is the text
of Bartolomé de Las Casas, the Dominican Spanish friar, challenger of the encomienda,
Bishop of Chiapas and well known as the Apostle of the Indians. Las Casas is one of the most
respected sources, he was present in Hispaniola and demonstrated a clear interest as well as
an inquiring mind in describing the life of the indigenous population. On the other hand
we must not forget his political commitment to the indigenous cause that more than once
resulted in biased observations or inaccurate data. The Apologética Historia Summaria is 

The Chronicles were documents produced by conquerors, soldiers, friars, civil servants and new citizens of the
new territories. They all described and wrote about America. “Their writing was foundational, their discourse
was trying, through the use of words, to construct a new identity for the colonized and his territory, but the
point of departure was the symbolic world of the writer” (Borja 2002:5) [my translation]. That is a central idea
in interpreting a Chronicle of the Indies. We have to keep always in mind that concepts of history, literature,
the use of rhetoric and the texts participating in the exercise of intertextuality (medieval, biblical or classics) are
all of a writer of fifteenth or sixteenth century.

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one of the lesser consulted texts of de Las Casas, compared with the Historia de las Indias
(1527) or the Brevisima Relación de la Destrucción de las Indias (1552) [both published
in 1875-1876] or even his transcription of Columbus’ Logbook. The Apologética contains
the essence of his philosophical thoughts about the human nature of the inhabitants of
Hispaniola. His arguments are based on the Aristotelian model that assimilates prudence
with rationality. Aristotle defines prudence as an essential virtue that allows human beings to distinguish between good and bad, necessary for them as persons but also for the
benefit of the community. Human beings possess intellectual virtues related to reason but
also ethical virtues related to will and capacity of action, both combined allow humans to
achieve perfection in action and in thought. A good way of acting in the world would be
related to the capacity of controlling extremes or passions in a rational and adequate way.
The objective should be to achieve balance taking distance from excesses. Prudence is, in
that way, at the basis of all ethic virtues. Being prudent involves being rational and practical when taking decisions about what is good or bad.
Since the second decade of the sixteenth century the discussion about the Amerindians’
lack of rationality and the following issue of the possibility of taking their liberty away was
actively present between Spanish academics and jurists. This was necessary to construct a
theoretical argumentation to legitimize the Crown’s political control of the Indies.
Las Casas’ objective was to demonstrate that indigenous inhabitants possessed rational
capabilities and were also able to construct and maintain admirable “republics.” Las Casas
took the most important requirements mentioned by Aristotle to achieve a prudent life and
tested their existence in the daily life of the inhabitants of Hispaniola expecting in such a
way to prove that they possessed the Aristotelian characteristics for a prudent or a rational
political life. We turn our attention to this text because of the possibility that the writer
may have began its construction around 1523 (the scholars do not agree on a specific time)
which means that this theoretical frame influenced also the documents produced later in
describing Hispaniola and the inhabitants.
Las Casas’ Apologética, is a document born out of the context of Spanish discussions
about the barbarism of the American Indians, an idea that provided the foundations to justify the Spanish exploitation in America. Las Casas presented his philosophical arguments
against the alleged idea that Indians were the natural slaves mentioned by Aristotle. Based
on his observation of the indigenous cultures, he offered examples to reinforce every step of
his argumentation. When he described Hispaniola and its inhabitants he was talking from
an authoritarian perspective given by his position as an eyewitness. Las Casas analyses the
requirements mentioned by Aristotle and confirms the presence of those characteristics in
the inhabitants of Hispaniola. Through this exercise he expected to dismantle the idea of
barbarism. His descriptions of physical and environmental characteristics constitute the
geographic foundation for his model. This is the first of the elements that influence the
representation of the Indian’s constitution. He describes the environment: the soil, the
plants, the weather, the sea, the animals, presenting a picturesque description close to uto 

Las Casas reacts against Gines de Sepulveda’s affirmation that if Indians in America were barbarians then, following Aristotle, they were the natural slaves so they could be exploited and chained. They must accept Spanish
rule in view of their incapacity to govern themselves. Las Casas defended the idea that Indians were able to
govern themselves because their rationality was proved by the highly cultural level they have achieved.
Las Casas’s strategy to dismantle the concept of barbarism is explaining the different meanings of the term. He
concludes that only when referring to barbarians as people and ferocious people, incapable of living in society,
it is possible to affirm that they will require the guardianship of the Spanish Government (Beuchot 2004:60).

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pian paradise, rather than a chaotic exuberant nature. Instead of standing in the way of
indigenous development every element is encouraging it. Climate influences the disposition of the inhabitants and so as a result of such an auspicious environment he concludes
that the proportioned and beautiful bodies of the inhabitants can only contain a noble
soul. Here he quotes Aristotle’s concept that the soul is determined by the structure of the
body.
[…] since all the inhabitants of these Indies, for the most part, and specially the boys and girls, have
a good semblance and concordance of beautiful faces and proportioned limbs and bodies, and this since
birth, as the Philosopher said, it demonstrates that God and nature gave and endowed and granted
them with noble souls, and therefore made them reasonable and of good understanding (Apologética
I:438).

The idea of a savage nation begins to be erased, and any contradictory external elements
damaging to the representation of Indian’s constitution are counteracted. Having proved
that even the natural world helped the American inhabitants to develop their potential, Las
Casas begins to analyse every one of the Aristotelian qualities required for a rational life.
The idea that a human being has to be able to live in society and be part of a group is the
first element. This social tendency expresses itself in first instance on an economic level: by
that he means the presence of a house, meant to be inhabited by husband, wife, children
and servants or oxen, because a man also has to have possessions. About the house, the
Aristotelian principle is that the man has to be able not only to acquire and select the materials but also be able to build it himself providing comfort and security to the habitants.
Las Casas has no trouble finding a parallel to these ideas in Hispaniola.
The inhabitants of Hispaniola […] made their houses out of wood and straw in the form of a bell.
They were very tall and spacious and 10 or more people could live in each one. They sunk posts, as
thick as human legs in the ground. All of the sticks came together in the ceiling where they were tied
with ropes made of a root called bejucos (Apologética I:480).

Once the house exists physically, the next element is the government of the household. The requirement is the ability to supply the means for the family’s subsistence. In
Aristotle’s view agriculture was the most important way to achieve this purpose. Again Las
Casas is able to describe how Hispaniola can comply with this requirement.
Of all human capabilities, the most important is agriculture. This implies ploughing and the production of natural products of the earth, birds, hunting and fishing, these are natural resources needed to
maintain family and children. All of this they had in abundance. In these islands they find and obtain
everything from nature except the cazabi bread which they plant, treat and prepare, there was plenty
of this and it was nice (Apologética I:481). 



Describing the geographic characteristics that make Hispaniola a place able to be inhabited, Las Casas writes:
“[…] the positive influence of the sky and the adequate distance of the earth from the sun had resulted in the
fertility of the soil and the absence of swamps, stench and other disadvantages. Instead there is a healthy air
and good winds making this region temperate and suitable for human habitation and worthy to be visited. It is
possible that Paradise on earth should look like that […]” (Apologética I:355).
All translations of Apologética are mine.

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In third place the administration of the house requires order and organization in the
distribution of tasks. Las Casas observed, as well in the case of the husband as in the case of
the wife, that the inhabitants of Hispaniola followed the Aristotelian model. The same order and discipline apply to the case of the slaves because they constitute part of any human
being’s possessions. Las Casas here faces a problem because he is unable to find a comparable situation in Hispaniola, far from it, as he states the absence of slaves in the island.
A few people in the continent who had slaves (because in the island there were no slaves between the
Indians) treated them so kindly and with such love that there was almost no difference with their own
kids […] (Apologética I:484) [Emphasis is mine].

How accurate his observation is and how far Las Casas would go to prove his argument
has been researched by David Henige (1992) in his article To read is to misread, to write is
to miswrite. Las Casas as transcriber. Henige studied Las Casas’s Historia de las Indias where
the friar quotes Columbus’s Diary frequently to add veracity to his descriptions. The general idea that Las Casas transcribed faithfully and with scrupulous accuracy is questioned
in the light of some problematic texts, like the one introducing the notion of Indian slavery
of other Indians. Such affirmation would have contradicted Las Casas statements that slave
raiding in the Caribbean was a Spanish innovation. So when quoting Columbus’ description of Guanahani he just erases the lines refering to slavery. The subject of the presence
of slaves is solved arguing that if there were slaves –present on the continent (tierra firme)
but not in the islands- they were treated as family. About the oxen, also mentioned by
Aristotle as replacement for the slaves, they couldn’t be found in Hispaniola either. This
time Las Casas’creative observation adopts a well known argument of Columbus: God
provided the indigenous population with such fertile grounds that they did not need oxen
for agriculture.
People of these lands didn’t have oxen to plough the earth, like the Philosopher asserts in Politics and
Economics 1º: In the poor man’s house the ox replaces the slave to plough the earth in place of the
slave; but God provided them with fertile ground that needed only a strong stick to break the earth and
obtain crops, so they did not need to plough […] (Apologética I:485).

The next problem would be the Aristotelian concept of money or currency (pecunias o
dinero), something rather difficult to find in Hispaniola. This is compensated by the assertion that the Indians were blessed with such natural wealth that they needed nothing else.
[…]God provided them with fertile ground that needed only a strong stick to break the earth and
obtain crops, so they did not need to plough. They had this and all the necessary things for their daily
survival […] that is why they did not need money because they lack nothing (Apologética I:485). 



“[…] the husband tilled the land and worked in the fields, fished and hunted; he brought wood and other
materials to construct houses and buildings, and he built his own house and all other things that belong to
manly work.”(Apologética I:481) “[…] the wife[…] made bread, took care of the chickens, if they had them,
went for water to the river, cooked, spun and wove cotton, clothes, shirts and blankets they wear and also the
naguas […] and the nets they called hamacas and used as beds, all this they made with much art” (Apologética
I:484).
The lost passage is the one from Columbus’ Diary describing his first impression about Indians in Guanahani,
October 12: “I saw some of them with wounds and scars in their bodies. I asked with signs about the meaning
of such scars and they answered that people from other islands nearby came to take them so they had to defend
themselves. I thought and still think that people from the continent use to arrive here to take prisoners.”

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Compliance with the Aristotelian requirements is essential for Las Casas because only
this parallel will allow him to prove his essential argument: the humanity of the indigenous
Americans. That is why he goes further with another important observation, this time
about the requirement of the existence of villages or populous places. To sustain his argument he uses his authority as an eye witness, but then provides conflicting descriptions,
like for example the one that would create more than a headache for future researchers: “infinite villages” in Hispaniola (infinitos pueblos en La Española). In this case a comparative
reading of his other documents rather than clarifying, makes the situation even more complex. Philosophically his solution is to re-define the concept of a city, taking this time an
idea of Saint Agustine. What constitutes a civil community, called a city, village or hamlet,
is not the number of inhabitants living protected by walls within a group of neighbouring
buildings. Rather the essence is peace, justice and general agreement between neighbours.
That is why even when we cannot find villages surrounded by walls or large numbers of
buildings in Hispaniola, we can talk of cities.
[…] If the people of the Indies have peace, and they live normally and quietly and nobody harms
anyone in their cities, villages and places […] we can conclude that their republics are perfect and enough for them, even more perfect than other nations which do not have so much peace […] (Apologética
I:490-491).

Las Casas manages to prove his point, the inhabitants of Hispaniola are potential candidates to live a prudent life because they posses the economic, domestic, familiar and
paternal Aristotelian requirements. We have also seen how far he can go in his efforts to
fit the indigenous population into a certain western model. But we have also proved the
limitations of Las Casas’ observations in Hispaniola. Where can we find the descriptions
of the American indigenous peculiarities? When do we find the details of the American
landscape not contaminated or defined by this theoretical Aristotelian frame? Can we rely
on Las Casas to provide us with a fresh, maybe even surprising first look at the unknown
Hispaniola and the inhabitants?
What is clear from the Apologética is the lack of a description of a structured, unified
politically organized Indigenous community. The republic, in the case of Hispaniola, was
perfect because the people lived in peace between themselves and did not harm each other. 

If we follow Las Casas descriptions about not only the dimensions of the so called villages but also how they
were inhabited, it can get rather confusing. “A neighborhood is a clan that grows up, from one goes to many, and
they inhabited many houses and created a neighborhood of sons and grandsons. As the Philosopher says a city
is born from many neighborhoods together” (Apologética I:486). In Apologética II:524: “In Hispaniola, Cuba,
San Juan, Jamaica and the Lucayos there were infinite villages, houses all together, many neighbors from different lineages together because every one of this could have formed many houses and neighborhoods.” Finally in
Apologética II:491: ”Even if in these Indies people do not have villages or cities protected by walls, beautiful
buildings or high towers, as long as they live in peace and united, we can not deny their villages, hamlets or
cities the definition of such. It is enough that they live together, not much of them but enough to take the form
of a village or city, according to the number of neighborhoods, family ties or lineages together, even if there are
only straw constructions because that is all they need.”

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For this group of beings, Las Casas asserts, it was enough to live in peace and happiness,
with what they already had achieved: lack of chaos. Hispaniola was in that sense a perfect
republic because the perfection of a city or village lies in the people living in peace and
harmony. To reinforce this argument even more Las Casas describes how the American inhabitants were able to live in peace between villages. Those villages were formed of one to
five hundred houses (Apologética II:524) and in each house 10 or even 15 neighbors lived
with their wives and children. Even more surprisingly, and an important argument for the
civilized nature of the inhabitants, was the fact that in a round straw house, more or less 30
or 40 feet in diameter, without room divisions, 10 or 15 inhabitants lived together all their
lives without quarrels or discussions between husbands, wives or children.
But can we conclude then that the model of Indian villages in Hispaniola was only
based on the presence of abstract ideas such as peace and justice? To find more information about indigenous communities in Hispaniola we have to make use of intertextuality
and jump back to a document from 1516, the Interrogatorio Jeronimiano. We encounter,
probably for the first time, an official document in which an original name is used to
describe an Amerindian village: a yucayeque. How difficult it was to understand and to
grasp the meaning of these communities is reflected in the number of words used in the
document every time the authors tried to find a synonym for the word “yucayeque”.10 The
Hieronymite document provides useful information about the fact that in 1516 there were
only a few Indian communities left in Hispaniola, since an official order from the Crown
determined that all Indians had to be mobilized to cities. The Interrogatorio was written
by the Hieronymite friars as part of a systematic documentation of the fulfilment of the
task they have received: to study the possibilities of an independent Indian settlement in
the Americas. The rapid disappearance of the Indian population was becoming evident,
so the friars were charged to understand the Indian cultures and restore them. This was
an attempt to put into practice the utopia of villages destined exclusively for Indians in
the colonies under Spanish guardianship. The friars worked in a very organized way and
one of their first measures was to ask the opinion of 13 well known members of the Santo
Domingo community. The testigos, witnesses that answered the questions were members of
the Spanish community: visitadores [Spanish government inspectors], owners of encomiendas [land and inhabitants granted to a conquistador], people that benefited from repartimientos [distribution of indigenous people for forced labour]. All of them declared that
Indians were incapable of governing themselves, that they were degenerates and especially
that they were unable to understand basic rules of survival: to make profit. Indians did not
understand the idea of payment, exchange with capital gain or surplus. They were capable
of working in their conucos [smallholding. Indigenous agriculture] but they proved unable 

Being human beings without knowledge of the true faith made the Amerindians also unable to access a certain
form of happiness that Aristotle calls civil happiness or the capacity to govern themselves and others with virtue.
Las Casas established clear differences between Christian cultures and heathens or non-christians and in such a
way makes clear the existence of a unique faith and other belief. But the fact that Amerindians were considered
heathens was not a reason to take their sovereignty and freedom away. Las Casas explained that idolatry did
not depend on more or less rationality, it was attributed to a natural state of human beings in absence of grace.
Following Saint Thomas he asserts that all human beings had an inborn knowledge of God, in the case of the
Amerindians maybe still confused, but that was why doctrine was needed to teach them, but this could never
be used as a reason to subjugate them.
10 The word yucayeque replaces: asientos, haciendas, tierras, estancias, poblaciones, comarcas, pueblos, provincias,
ciudades and villas. All these Spanish concepts applied along the documents of Indies when trying to describe
Hispaniola’s household without grasping the exact definition.

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to make provisions for the future, they couldn’t even sell the bread they produced. We read
also in the document that Indians were born and brought up in yucayeques and were only
forced to go to cities for work. Accepted and recognized caciques were the leaders of these
communities (they even listed the names of some of the caciques: Alonso de Cáceres and
Pedro Colón (Wesch 1993:119), don Francisco in Bonao and Dotor in Santiago (Wesch
1993:125). We also find the description of their labour system: the Indians lived in yucayeques, went to work in the Spanish properties and back to their yucayeques. This all
is incidental information given in the context of a general complaint about how easily,
when going back to the yucayeques, Indians forgot the beneficial things they learned during
contact with Spanish civilization. This meant that they continued practicing their games,
areitos [music and dance ritual], cohoba rituals [ceremony of an induced trance] and other
practices considered unacceptable in a Christian society. The document shows opposition
and resistance to changes from a strong lobby of Spanish interested parties who felt their
basic privileges to exploit the indigenous population were threatened. After two years the
Hieronymite experiment failed due to opposition from interested parties and the terrible
role of the mayordomos in charge of the administration of the communities who prioritized
their own economic interests, and finally due to a terrible outbreak of smallpox that took
the lives of a great number of Indians.
As informative as this document proves to be we cannot reject Las Casas. His documents contain useful information precisely in the moments that the chronicler is confronted with the failure of the parallel between the Aristotelian model and the American
reality. It is then when he is confronted with and tries to “compensate” the supposed gap in
the theoretical frame that he describes American characteristics. The houses in Hispaniola
were made of good materials, they were comfortable and strong, and their simplicity, which
otherwise might have been a sign of barbarism, was compensated by their cleanliness, and
building materials such as straw, braided into admirable and beautiful patterns bejucos
[climbing plants of the Tropics similar to the liana] and the nice smell of some of the plants
used for the construction (Apologética I:480-481, II:525).
For a deconstructive reading of Las Casas’philosophical ideas these details may sound
simple but their presence constitutes material for other disciplines to develop these points
and reconstruct an entire projection of Amerindian values, based on the simplicity of domestic beauty described by Las Casas.11
The colonial documents continue presenting a challenge, to classify, to summarize and
even to read, meaning that the information they contain remains as some kind of unknown
land waiting to be decoded, named and displayed to the eyes of the world.

11 A clear example could be archaeologist Dr. Alice Samson’s dissertation: Renewing the House. Trajectories of social
life in the yucayeque (community) of El Cabo, Higüey, Dominican Republic, AD 800 to 1504. She asserts: “[…] the
archaeological evidence suggests that a cultural aesthetic of domestic beauty existed in El Cabo which focused
on the structure of the house. This was identified by focusing attention on various aspects of the lifecycle of
the house such as the coordinated, joint effort and exacting execution of house foundations, the monumentality of the house façade, dressing of the abandoned house like the dressing of the human social body and the
responsibility to replicate or renew the successful home for perpetuity” (Samson 2010:272).

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References
Beuchot, M.
2004 La Querella de la Conquista. Una polémica del siglo XVI. México: Siglo Veintiuno
Editores. Colección América Nuestra, Mexico.
Gómez, B., and J. Humberto
2002 Los Indios Medievales de Fray Pedro de Aguado. Construcción del Idólatra y escritura
de la historia en una crónica del siglo XVI. CEJA, Bogota.
Henige, D.
1992 To read is to misread, to write is to miswrite. Las Casas as transcriber. In Amerindian
Images and the Legacy of Columbus, edited by R. Jara and N. Spadaccini, pp. 198-229.
University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.
Jara, R., and N. Spadaccini (editors)
1992 Amerindian Images and the Legacy of Columbus. University of Minnesota Press,
Minnesota.
Las Casas, B. de
1992 Apologética Historia Sumaria I y II. In Obras Completas, Tomos 6 and 7. Alianza
Editorial, Madrid.
Samson, A.V.M.
2010 Renewing the House. Trajectories of social life in the yucayeque (community) of
El Cabo, Higuey, Dominican Republic, AD 800 to 1504. PhD dissertation, Leiden
University. Sidestone Press, Leiden.
Wesch, A.
1993 Kommentierte Edition und linguistische Untersuchung der Información de los
Jerónimos (Santo Domingo 1517). Gunter Narr Verlag Tübingen, Tübingen.

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From Cayo

to

K alinago

Aspects of Island Carib archaeology

Arie Boomert

Recent investigations on the islands of St. Vincent and Dominica have yielded archaeological evidence considerably deepening our insight into the Cayo pottery complex of the
Windward Islands and its settlement structure. It is now generally accepted that Cayo
ceramics represents the earthenware repertoire characterizing the Island Carib (Kalinago)
people from the late-prehistoric episode well into the colonial period. Besides, the predominant derivation of Cayo pottery from that of the Koriabo complex, known throughout the
Guianas, is no longer in doubt, corroborating the claim of the Island Carib men, recorded
in the mid-seventeenth century, to their origin in the coastal zone of the Guianas and their
joint ethnicity with the Caribs (Kalina) of the mainland.
Investigaciones recientes en las islas de San Vincente y la Dominica han producido evidencia arqueológica que profundiza de manera considerable nuestra comprension del complejo
cerámico Cayo de las Islas de Barlovento y de su estructura de asentamientos. Ahora está
generalmente aceptado que la cerámica Cayo representa el repertorio alfarero que caracteriza a las Caribes Insulares (Kalinago) del período prehistórico tardío hasta entrando en el
período Colonial. Además, la idea que la cerámica Cayo se derive del complejo Koriabo,
documentado por todo las Guayanas, ya no cueda en duda, confirmando el reclamo de
hombres Caribes Insulares, registrado a medio siglo diecisiete, de su origen en la zona costera de las Guayanas y de su pertenencia étnica con los Caribes (Kalina) de tierra firme.
Des recherches récentes sur les îles de Saint-Vincent et de Dominique ont apporté le témoignage archéologique permettant d’approfondir considérablement notre perception du
complexe de poterie Cayo des Îles du Vent et de la structure d’habitat qui y est associée. Il
est maintenant généralement admis que la céramique Cayo représente le répertoire de poteries caractérisant les Caraïbes insulaires (Kalinago) de l’épisode préhistorique tardif avancé
de la période coloniale. En outre, la dérivation prédominante de la poterie Cayo de celle du
complexe Koriabo, connu dans toutes les Guyanes, n’est plus mise en doute, et corrobore
ainsi à la revendication des hommes Caraïbes insulaires, enregistrée au milieu du XVIIe
siècle, de reconnaître leur origine dans la zone côtière des Guyanes et leur appartenance
ethnique commune avec les Caraïbes (Kalina) du continent.

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km
0

100

Figure 1 Map of the Eastern Caribbean, showing the distribution of the Cayo
complex and the settlement area of the Island Carib ca. 1600 (interrupted line).
Legend: (1) Cayo settlement sites; (2) Cayo individual finds.

Introduction
Undoubtedly the Cayo complex forms the least well-known but one of the most intriguing
ceramic assemblages known from Lesser Antillean archaeology to date. First encountered
by I.A. Earle Kirby at the New Sandy Bay site close to the Cayo River in northeast St.
Vincent in the 1970s (Kirby 1974), subsequently Cayo ceramics were identified by the author as representing the pottery complex of the Island Carib who inhabited the Windward
Islands during late-prehistoric and protohistoric times (Boomert 1986, 1995; see Figure

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1). Nowhere is the presence of Cayo better known archaeologically than in St. Vincent,
but closely related materials have also been recovered from sites in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe
(Richard 2002a, 2002b, 2003), Dominica (Boomert 2009; Petitjean Roget 1978:Photos
4-5), Martinique (Allaire 1984:Figure 3:A), St. Lucia (Hofman and Bright 2004), Ile de
Ronde, Grenadines (Petitjean Roget 2001/2002:60-61), Grenada (Cody Holdren 1998:8081, 87), and Trinidad (Boomert 1986:Figure 21:7). Besides, in 1993 Louis Allaire was able
to identify Cayo pottery clearly associated with materials dating to the historic period such
as glass beads and objects of iron, copper or brass and gunflint at the Argyle site of St.
Vincent, including a unique Cayo potsherd with a series of glass seed beads inlaid in the
rim (Allaire 1994; Allaire and Duval 1995).
Since Allaire’s investigations at Argyle for more than a decade no further work was
undertaken at the Cayo sites of St. Vincent and only sparsely elsewhere in the Windward
Islands. However, in 2008 the Caribbean Research Group of the Faculty of Archaeology,
Leiden University, initiated an archaeological project intended to undertake further archaeological and ethnohistorical research into the Island Carib occupation of the Lesser
Antillean archipelago. As a first stage of this project a small team of Leiden University, cooperating with Dr. Lennox Honychurch of the Dominica Museum, Roseau, surveyed part
of northeast Dominica in order to analyse a series of small sites of the Cayo complex in
January 2008. The area investigated is situated some 6-15 km north of the present Carib
Territory which houses a thriving community of (mixed) descendants of the historic Island
Carib or Kalinago as they called themselves. Subsequently the construction works for the
new international airport at Argyle, St. Vincent, which will lead to the destruction of all
archaeological sites in the area, were reason for Leiden University to perform rescue excavations at the Argyle site in 2009 and 2010, co-operating with Mrs. Kathy M. Martin of
the St. Vincent and The Grenadines National Trust and partially funded by the St. Vincent
International Airport Development Company. These investigations yielded for the first
time in Caribbean archaeology patterns of postmolds of houses and other structures of a
Cayo/Island Carib settlement next to mobile finds including Cayo pottery associated with
historic pottery, glass and metal remains.

Cayo and the Island Carib
The recognition of the Island Carib ceramic complex formed an archaeological bone of
contention throughout most of the second half of the previous century. While in the first
instance the pottery of the Suazan Troumassoid subseries (then still called the Suazey series
or tradition) was felt to represent Kalinago ceramics (McKusick 1960; Bullen 1964), subsequently the author tentatively identified the little-known Cayo complex of St. Vincent as
such, using archaeological and ethnohistorical data (Boomert 1986). Although thereupon
Davis and Goodwin (1990) discussed the ‘Island Carib Problem’ while fully ignoring this
evidence, the ensuing recovery of Cayo ceramics from various sites between Grenada and
Guadeloupe next to Allaire’s discoveries on St. Vincent settled the matter quite conclusively. Research should now focus on the recovery of many more Cayo sites in the Windward
Islands, preferably by combining ethnohistorical investigation with archaeological recon

That is to say: the men in Island Carib society called themselves as such, while the women used the term
Kalipuna. The male form is essentially identical to Kalina, the name the Carib of the mainland still today
employ to refer to their own people (see Boomert 1986).

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naissance. Besides, the question why it has taken so long to identify Island Carib ceramics should be answered while the temporal and cultural relationship between the various
Suazan and Cayo pottery complexes in the Windwards has to be further analysed.
One aspect of the problem, our knowledge of the Kalinago ceramic complex for as far it
can be reconstructed from the documentary evidence has recently been studied to greater
depth than previously (Harris 1999; Hofman and Bright 2004). Iconographically Island
Carib ceramics are poorly known. Only a few pictures are known showing pottery as part
of the Amerindian scenery in the islands (see Allaire 1984). Such an illustration is represented by an engraving of Sébastien Le Clerc which was published in Du Tertre’s Histoire
Générale of 1671. It shows a meeting between French sailors and Island Carib on the beach
of one of the French islands (Du Tertre 1973:II-372). Unfortunately, the vessel illustrated
by Le Clerc is of a very general shape. The only publication which is accompanied by detailed pictures of a number of Island Carib artefacts including pottery vessels is Sieur De la
Borde’s Relation des Caraïbes sauvages des Isles Antilles de l’Amérique of 1674 which shows a
couple of vessels provided with somewhat pointed bases and decorated with designs which
unfortunately appear to be largely or entirely arisen from the fantasy of the illustrator (De

Figure 2 Island Carib pottery vessels shown in Sieur de la
Borde’s Relation des Caraïbes sauvages des Isles Antilles de
l’Amérique (1674).

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la Borde 1992:Figures 10-11; see Figure 2). Other items such as a Carib warclub (bouton),
a paddle and a coui, i.e. a halved calabash used for serving cassava beer, are shown to be
ornamented with similar motifs. Whether the illustrator intended to show that these items
were decorated with painted or incised designs is unclear. According to the Anonymous
of Carpentras (2002:132-134), the Island Carib painted their couis all-over red or applied
black motifs on a red background. Breton (1999:7) notes that they used to smudge most
of their pottery by firing it in a reducing rather than oxidizing environment resulting in
blackened surfaces and subsequently varnishing it with élémi, a natural resin derived from
the bark of the locust tree (Hymenaea courbaril).
Interestingly, as noted previously (Boomert 1995), the nomenclature of the various
Island Carib vessel shapes, recorded by seventeenth- to eighteenth-century authors such as
the Anonymous of Carpentras, Breton, Rochefort, Du Tertre, Du Puis, De la Borde, Labat,
and the Anonymous of St. Vincent, shows an interesting distinction between two genderrelated functional earthenware categories. Vessels typically associated with the male sphere
of activities carry names of Cariban linguistic affiliation while forms connected with the female occupations in Island Carib society are indicated by Maipuran Arawakan or European
names. The male-associated vessels include well-finished, more or less ceremonial ceramics, used for communal use during meals, the preparation of cassava beer or for serving the
latter during drinking feasts, while the female-related earthenware comprizes only purely
domestic vessels next to griddles.
The dimorphism in Kalinago vessel nomenclature accurately reflects the distinction
between the gender-affiliated registers employed in Island Carib society in which the men,
though speaking basically Northern Arawakan, used a largely Kalina (Mainland Carib)
or Kalina-derived vocabulary, while the women employed a fully Arawakan lexicon (Hoff
1994, 1995). As is well known, part of the Island Carib myths of origin ascribe this linguistic situation by postulating that the men in their society are descended from Caribanspeaking warriors who once immigrated into the Windward Islands from the area of the
Galibis, i.e. Kalina, of the Guianas, more specifically the lower Maroni River in northeast Suriname and northwest French Guiana. They would have extinguished the men and
married the women of the original inhabitants of these islands who spoke a Maipuran
Arawakan language closely related to Lokono or True Arawak of the South American mainland and south Trinidad. It is well to realize that contrary to the commonly held view, the
Island Carib narratives on their origin are certainly not unanimous in claiming exactly this
scenario. To the contrary, one of the versions recorded holds that in fact the Windwards
were uninhabited at the time of the Island Carib immigration from the Guiana coastal zone
(Gullick 1980).
The Cariban names characterizing the male-related Island Carib vessel repertoire suggested to Allaire (1977, 1984) that the origin of this portion of their pottery complex had
to be sought in the Guianas. Though his reasoning cannot be accepted without qualification, the linguistic resemblance is certainly indicative of a mainland connection. Besides,
Allaire’s and the author’s study of Kalinago pottery manufacture as well as vessel morphology and decorative patterns clearly suggests that the early historic Island Carib ceramic complex developed parallel to that of the present Kalina Indians of the Guianas out of a lateprehistoric ancestral tradition common to both. This latter ceramic assemblage could be
identified as the Koriabo complex, an offshoot of the Koriaban subseries of the Guianas, itself forming part of the Polychrome Tradition or Marajoaroid series of Amazonia (Boomert

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2004). As much of the Cayo pottery of the Windward Islands shows typically Koriabo
vessel shapes and decorative motifs, the author has concluded that this insular complex
forms a derivation from the Koriabo ceramics and, consequently, represents the Kalinago
pottery tradition. Besides, just as much Koriabo pottery in the Guianas, a number of Cayo
potsherds from New Sandy Bay, St. Vincent, appear to be tempered with caraipé, i.e. the
burned bark of the Licania tree, which is indigenous to the Guianas and Trinidad, but unknown from the Windward Islands (see Boomert 1986, 1995).
It is noteworthy that not the entire Cayo ceramic repertoire can be interpreted as emanating from the Koriabo complex of the Guianas. Instead, one particular vessel shape,
Vessel Form 4 of Boomert (1986), cannot be ascribed to this mainland ceramic tradition. It
comprizes more or less biconical bowls of medium proportions showing concave necks and
restricted composite contours, often decorated with punctated or nicked small knobs at the
corner point (see Boomert 1986:Figures 3-4, 5-4, and 10-4). Form as well as ornamentation of this vessel shape show close similarities to the Late Chicoid bowls of Hispaniola,
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, especially those included by García Arévalo (1978:
Figure 2, Lam. III:b-c) in his cerámica criolla category of historic times. This cultural link
with the late-prehistoric Indians of the Greater Antilles may originate from the capturing
of Taíno women by the Island Caribs which together with the raiding of Lokono (Arawak)
women from the mainland and Trinidad can be taken to have been responsible for a continuous reinforcement of the Maipuran Arawakan element in Island Carib society. Otherwise,
it might be ascribed to Taíno Indians who escaped from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
due to Spanish pressure in the contact period (Bright, personal communication 2010).
Although the mainland affiliations of Cayo ceramics suggest that the major theme in
the Island Carib myths of their origin is historically correct, doubtlessly the Kalinago settlement in the Windward Islands formed only the ultimate outcome of already existing
relationships of intermarriage, trade, and ceremonial exchange, thus cementing rather
than disrupting long-established patterns of interaction and communication between the
mainland and the Lesser Antilles. Clearly, the formation of the Kalina/Kalinago/Lokono
sphere of interaction, closely knit by ties of kinship, ethnicity, language, exchange, war,
and culture, which encompassed the Windward Islands, Trinidad and the littoral zone of
the Guianas, had its roots in Troumassoid times. Indeed, if the Tobago evidence is exemplary for the Windward Islands, the gender-related division of Island Carib ceramics had
its precursors in the Troumassoid series of the Lesser Antilles. Both subsequent Tobagonian
Troumassoid complexes, Golden Grove and Plymouth, show a division into basically two
distinct wares with specialized functions and, consequently, different occupational and
gender associations, i.e. a male-related high-quality ware serving purposes of more or less
ceremonial character and a female-affiliated coarse ware with purely domestic functions
(Boomert 2005, 2007; Boomert and Kameneff 2003).
In 2008 northeast Dominica was selected for investigating archaeological sites yielding
Cayo ceramics by the Leiden team as it is adjacent to the present Carib Territory and shows
similar environmental characteristics. The Carib Territory consists of 1530 ha of heavily
wooded hilly country crossed by deep ravines and rocky streams, extending along some 13
km of rugged, irregular coastline. Its population is concentrated in seven coastal hamlets,
of which Salybia forms the administrative centre. These villages, which are distinguished
by generally widely dispersed houses, are connected by the winding coastal road running
from Marigot to Castle Bruce (Kouanari) and beyond. In addition, scattered dwellings

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are found along the hillsides. The bay of Salybia is the only landing of some substance for
the fishermen among the Carib. At present houses are of Dominican Creole type, raised
0.5-1.5 m from the ground on piles, with flooring and walls of hardwood boards and galvanized iron sheeting for roofs (Honychurch 2000:10; Taylor 1938). They typically shelter nuclear families. Each house (muinan) has a mud courtyard behind it with a separate
kitchen and latrine. As Hoogland (1984) notes, organic debris is generally disposed of by
dumping it on sloping ground beyond the yard while metal and glass are thrown on top
of a rubbish pile next to the yard. Food remains such as chicken bones and fish are fed to
pigs or dogs.
The traditional Island Carib village showed a quite different layout. As described by seventeenth- to eighteenth-century observers such as the Anonymous of Carpentras, Breton,
Du Tertre, Rochefort, Labat, and Le Breton (cited by Lafitau), it consisted of a large men’s
(assembly) house with a small plaza in front, surrounded by smaller family dwellings. The
men’s house (táboüi) was a barn-like oval to rectangular building, measuring 18-30x6-7.5
m (135-225 m2) and reportedly capable of holding up to 120 hammocks. It consisted of
a row of heavy forked posts, placed at distances of ca. 2 m and embedded 0.5-1.5 m into
the earth at the bottom, which supported the roof. From the top rafters radiated outward
and downward to the ground, supporting the roof which was covered with palm leaves,
tied with cords. Sometimes one end was entirely open while the other end was closed by
a wall of roseau reed (Arundo saccharoides) lathes, only interrupted by a door. If the men’s
house was entirely closed, it had two doors, one at either end. Besides, it had a small opening in the roof, the ‘devil’s opening’, which allowed the shaman’s tutelary spirit to enter
during a séance. The táboüi was surrounded by small family houses, i.e. oval to round huts
with palisaded walls consisting of reeds fastened across and roofs covered with palm leaves.
These huts had only one opening and were divided into two parts, one serving as the sleeping quarters of women and unmarried children and the other one forming the kitchen. A
separate shed was used as the storeroom of weapons and valuable utensils.
The men’s house served as a daily meeting place for the men of the village, as a place to
receive and accommodate guests, to hold communal feasts, and occasionally to bury deceased (male) members of the community. The men used to spend part of the day in the assembly house, discussing matters of war and peace from their hammocks. Women entered
only to serve meals or to wipe the (dirt) floor. The only contemporary representation of an
Island Carib (or Kalina) village is shown on a unique ink and watercolour manuscript map,
probably drawn by Willem Mollens, the Dutch governor of the Courlander settlement at
present-day Plymouth on the leeward coast of Tobago, dating to 1656 (see Boomert 2002).
This map, the original of which was destroyed during the Second World War, shows the
Amerindian village at the back of the Courlander fortress Jekabs (Jacob), called after the
Duke of Courland (present Latvia). The village consists of a rectangular, entirely closed,
building with thatched roof, obviously the men’s house, occupying the centre of an open
square which is encircled by a series of (perhaps twenty) round family houses with conical,
thatched roofs (Figure 3). The drawing suggests that the walls of both the men’s house and
the family huts were made of closely-sets poles or reeds. The structures are overshadowed
by a tree of considerable size. Dark-skinned, sparingly clad Indians, holding spears in their
hands, are shown inside the village (Mattiesen 1940:Karte B).

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Figure 3 Part of an ink and watercolour manuscript map, probably drawn by Willem Mollens in 1656,
showing a probably Island Carib village situated northwest of the Courlander fort Jekabs (here not
shown) at present Plymouth, Tobago. Adapted from a reproduction by Mattiesen (1940:Karte B); original destroyed during the Second World War.

Cayo pottery revisited
As the technological and cultural aspects of the pottery materials recovered during the
2008-2010 surveys and excavations at St. Vincent and Dominica are still under study at
Leiden University, only a preliminary account of these materials can be given. As to manufacture, the pottery found at all sites under discussion can be characterized as tempered
predominantly with moderate amounts of local quartz sand and small quantities of black
minerals. Whether these non-plastics can be identified as deliberate additions to the potter’s clay or natural impurities has to be determined yet. Coiling apparently formed the
primary method of manufacture. Bases were either made using moulds or by flattening out
of a slab of clay. Firing took place in an open fire. Surface wall colour varies from black
or dark grey to brownish red, depending on whether reducing or oxidizing conditions
prevailed during firing. It is noteworthy that high proportions of pottery showing darkish
surfaces due to reducing conditions of firing have been identified at several sites yielding
Cayo ceramics in the Windward Islands (Boomert 1986).
Three major Koriabo vessel shapes are ubiquitous among the Cayo ceramics encountered during the Leiden excavations in St. Vincent and Dominica. The small to mediumsized jar with outcurving rim, vertical or almost vertical neck and globular body (Cayo
Form 5), which represents a direct copy of the Koriabo necked jar (Form 11), is most
common. Two vessels, accidentally encountered in 2004 at the Woodford Hill site on
Dominica, belong to this class (Boomert 2009; see Figure 4). Besides, a decorated rim
fragment of this type of necked jar was encountered by Steve Lenik (personal communication) in protohistoric context at the Indian River site on Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica, in
2006. Apart from Dominica and the New Sandy Bay, Argyle, Brighton, and Friendly Bay
sites on St. Vincent (Figure 5), Cayo Form 5 necked vessels are known from Martinique
(Allaire 1984:Figure 3A), Plage de Roseau, Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe (Richard 2003:Figure
4), and Icacos, southwest Trinidad (Boomert 1986:Figure 21:7). Another typically Cayo

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2 cm

Figure 4 Jar of Cayo Form 5, accidentally encountered at Woodford Hill, Dominica, in
2004. Collection Dominica Museum, Roseau.

2 cm

Figure 5 Jar of Cayo Form 5, provenance unknown, St. Vincent. Collection
St. Vincent and The Grenadines National Trust, Kingstown.

vessel shape, the medium-sized to large jar showing a convex neck and globular body of
Cayo Form 8 (Boomert 1986:Figures 4:B3, 6-4), which closely resembles Koriabo Form
13, has been identified at the Indian River site on Dominica by Steve Lenik (personal
communication) and at Galby Bay, Grenada, by Cody Holdren (1998:Figure 5-20). In St.
Vincent this vessel form has been encountered at the Argyle site.
A third, typically Koriabo-derived vessel form is represented by the medium-sized open
bowl showing concave sides and lobed rims of Cayo Form 3 (Boomert 1986:Figures 3-3,
5-3, 10-2). It is the insular counterpart of Koriabo Form 5 (Boomert 1986:Figure 12-5)
and is known from Argyle and Friendly Bay, St. Vincent, and Plage de Roseau, Basse-Terre,
Guadeloupe. Finally, it is noteworthy that the rims of all Cayo vessel shapes show predominantly flattened lips. This applies also to such non-diagnostic forms as the mediumsized, restricted bowls of Cayo Form 1 (Boomert 1986:Figure 3-1), the small to mediumsized open bowls with convex sides of Cayo Form 2 (Boomert 1986:Figures 3-2, 5-2) and
the medium-sized biconical bowls of Cayo Form 4 showing concave necks and restricted

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2 cm

Figure 6 Decorated biconical bowl of Cayo Form 4, provenance unknown, St. Vincent. Collection St.
Vincent and The Grenadines National Trust, Kingstown.

composite contours which are often decorated with punctated or nicked small knobs at
the corner point (see Boomert 1986:Figures 3-4, 5-4, 10-4). Examples of the latter vessel
category, which is closest to the Late Chicoid bowls of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the
Virgin Islands, have been encountered at both the New Sandy Bay and Argyle sites on St.
Vincent (Figure 6).
Pottery ornamentation is relatively limited but varied. Biconical bowls and necked vessels of respectively Cayo Forms 4 and 5 often show vertical or horizontal oval knobs with
a series of indentations on their largest belly diameters. This and other types of simple
modelling (Figure 7) are known from various sites on Dominica (e.g. Petitjean Roget 1978:
Photos 4-5); it is reported from Argyle and New Sandy Bay, St. Vincent (Boomert 1986:
Figure 10-4) and Plage de Roseau, Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe (Richard 2003:Figure 4), as
well. Besides, typically Cayo/Koriabo nubbins showing punctations applied with a hollow
reed have been recovered at the Indian River site, Dominica. Otherwise, such nubbins are
known from Woodford Hill, Dominica (Petitjean Roget 1978:Photo 5), New Sandy Bay,
St. Vincent (Boomert 1986:Figure 7-7), and Galbi, Grenada (Cody Holdren 1998:Figure
5-20). Rows of punctations or fields of dispersed punctations are common on especially
handles also ornamented with geometric and anthropozoomorphic head lugs (e.g. Boomert
1986:Figure 7-2,4). The Cayo Form 2 open bowl with bevelled rim inlaid with a series of
glass seed beads, recovered by Allaire (1994) at Argyle, of which a counterpiece was found
during the Leiden work at this site, can be taken to belong to this design category.
Decorative motifs consisting of rows of punctations running parallel to single or multiple incised lines are known from Argyle and Plage de Roseau, Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe
(Richard 2002a). Interestingly, comparable designs comprising rows of punctations, sometimes combined with parallel running incised lines, are encountered also on the ceramics
of contemporary non-Cayo sites in the Guadeloupean archipelago such as Anse du Coq,
Marie-Galante, and Morne Cybèle, La Désirade (Hofman 1997). Appliqué fillets showing
rows of punctations are known from Sauteurs, Grenada (Cody Holdren 1998:Figure 5-8)

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1 cm

Figure 7 Decorated rimsherd of a Cayo Form 5 jar, recovered during the 2009 excavations at Argyle, St.
Vincent. Collection St. Vincent and The Grenadines National Trust, Kingstown.

and Ile de Ronde (Petitjean Roget 2001/2002:60). Exclusively incised decorative motifs are
less common. Such designs have been reported from New Sandy Bay, St. Vincent (Boomert
1986:Figure 8), Sauteurs, Grenada (Cody Holdren 1998:Figure 5-7:B,D), and Plage de
Roseau, Basse-Terre (Richard 2003:Figure 3). Complicated incised motifs showing wavy
lines associated with supplementary design elements are known from Argyle.

Conclusions
Reviewing the Cayo pottery complex, it should be acknowledged that due to the preliminary stage of investigation of the Argyle ceramic materials definite conclusions cannot be
drawn. Nevertheless it is obvious that both at the Dominican sites investigated and at
Argyle and Friendly Bay, St. Vincent, a minority of typically Troumassoid pottery features
is represented in association with the Cayo ceramics. For instance, a ceramic mode such as
scratched surfaces frequently occurs at all of these sites. This situation is matched by the
presence of scratched potsherds at other sites yielding Cayo materials in the Windward
Islands, e.g. Sauteurs Bay, Grenada (Cody Holdren 1998:Figures 5-10,12), suggesting that
vessel wall scratching formed a Troumassoid pottery mode still in use some time after the
replacement of most Suazan Troumassoid ceramics by the Cayo complex. The continued
practice of scratching vessel surfaces following the introduction of Cayo vessel shapes and
decorative motifs apparently lasted well into colonial times as it is a ceramic feature well
known from the historic folk pottery of the region (e.g. Drewett 1997:Figure 4; Petersen
and Watters 1988:Figure 8). If so, it would indicate a gradual amalgamation of Cayo and
Suazan Troumassoid, rather than the abrupt substitution of the latter by Cayo (Island
Carib) ceramics. This is also suggested by the presence of typically Suazan footed griddles
at the Argyle site.
Coarse-ware scratched pottery vessels and footed griddles typically belonged to the
domestic earthenware in the Suazan Troumassoid communities of the Windward Islands,
Barbados and Tobago, and, consequently, were affiliated with the female sphere of activities in Amerindian society. The coarse-ware (low-quality) pottery obviously served primarily as cooking vessels or as receptacles for food storage and as cassava-brewing containers
(Boomert 2007; Boomert and Kameneff 2003). All of this suggests population continuity

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and, moreover, the absorption of locally resident Suazan women into Cayo/Island Carib
society, emerging in the Windward Islands in late-prehistoric times. This archaeological
scenario is astonishingly similar to that suggested by the Island Carib traditions of their
origin, which refer to groups of male immigrants from the Guiana coastal zone intermixing with the female population of the Windward Islands. Moreover, it reflects the Island
Carib dimorphism in vessel nomenclature recorded in the mid-seventeenth century. On
the other hand, it is well to keep in mind that the suggested male Kalina settlement on the
islands most likely formed only the ultimate outcome of already existing relationships of
intermarriage, trade and ceremonial exchange, thus cementing rather than disrupting longestablished patterns of interaction between the mainland and the Antilles.

Acknowledgements
The author’s 2008 and 2009-2010 research in Dominica and St. Vincent took place under
the auspices of the projects ‘Mobility and exchange: Dynamics of material, social and ideological relations in the pre-Columbian insular Caribbean’ and ‘Communicating communities: Unraveling pre-colonial networks of human mobility and exchange of goods and ideas
from a pan-Caribbean perspective’, led by Professor Corinne L. Hofman and funded by the
Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, The Hague. Besides, it was supported
by grants from the Stichting Nederlands Museum voor Anthropologie en Praehistorie,
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and the St. Vincent International Airport Development
Company. In 2010 the research took place in conjunction with a project of ceramic analysis of late-prehistoric sites at the storage facilities of the Direction Régionale des Affaires
Culturelles (DRAC) and the Musée Edgar Clerc in Le Moule, Grande-Terre, Guadeloupe,
funded by the DRAC.

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1964 The Archaeology of Grenada, West Indies. Contributions of the Florida State
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Cody Holdren, A.
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Contact and Colonization in the Eastern Caribbean. PhD dissertation, University of
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1990 Island Carib origins: Evidence and nonevidence. American Antiquity 55(1):
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De la Borde, S.
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1997 The Spring Head petroglyph cave: A sample excavation. Journal of the Barbados
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García Arévalo, M.A.
1978 Influencias de la dieta indo-hispánica en la cerámica Taína. Proceedings of the
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Gullick, C.J.M.R.C.
1980 Island Carib traditions about their arrival in the Lesser Antilles. Proceedings of the
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Harris, P. O’B.
1999 Ethnotypology: The basis for a new classification of Caribbean pottery. Proceedings
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Hoff, B.J.
1994 Island Carib, an Arawakan language which incorporated a lexical register of
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Honychurch, L.
2000 Carib to Creole: A History of Contact and Culture Exchange. The Dominica
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Hoogland, Interim-Rapport 1984: 34-35. Leiden University, Leiden.
Kirby, I.A.E.
1974 The Cayo pottery of St. Vincent – A pre-Calivigny series. Proceedings of the 5th
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Mattiesen, O.H.
1940 Die Kolonial- und Überseepolitik der kurländischen Herzöge im 17. und 18.
Jahrhundert. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart.
McKusick, M.B.
1960 Distribution of Ceramic Styles in the Lesser Antilles, West Indies. PhD dissertation,
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Petersen, J.B., and D.R. Watters
1988 Afro-Montserratian ceramics from the Harney site cemetery, Montserrat, West
Indies. Annals of Carnegie Museum 57:167-87.
Petitjean Roget, H.
1978 Reconnaissance archéologique à l’île de la Dominique (West Indies). Proceedings
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2001/2002 “De Baloue à Cariacou”: Facettes de l’Art Amérindien Ancien des Petites Antilles
– Catalogue des Pièces Exposées. Ecomusée de Maritinique, Fort-de-France.
Richard, G.
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2003 Le site archéologique de la Plage de Roseau à Capesterre Belle Eau. Révélateur
d’une occupation Caraïbe Insulaire en Guadeloupe. Proceedings of the 20th Internacional
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1938 The Caribs of Dominica. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology
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“Removed

from off the face of the island”

Late pre-Colonial and early Colonial Amerindian society in
the Lesser Antilles

Alistair J. Bright

Archaeologically speaking, the transition from pre-Colonial to Colonial Amerindian
culture in the Lesser Antilles is still poorly understood. On many islands, radiocarbon
dates extend no later than the early fifteenth century, and archaeology of Colonial period Amerindian society is almost non-existent. However, from the mid-seventeenth century onwards, Lesser Antillean Amerindian society basked in considerable attention from
European travellers, traders and missionaries. Many of these committed their observations
to paper, yielding a plethora of ethnological accounts avant-la-lettre as well as maps of
fresh Colonial possessions. This article examines the rich ethnohistorical and cartographic
record of the Colonial period Caribbean, with the aim of providing a baseline for a yet to
be initiated archaeology of Colonial period Amerindian society in the Lesser Antilles. Not
only the great potential but also the problems associated with these lines of evidence will
be discussed.
Desde la perspectiva de la arqueología, la transición de la cultura pre-Colonial a la Colonial
en las Antillas Menores sigue siendo mal conocido. En muchas islas, fechas de radiocarbono no sobrepasan los principios del Siglo XV y una arqueología sobre la sociedad amerindia
del período colonial es practicamente inexistente. Sin embargo, a partir del Siglo XVII, la
sociedad amerindia de las Antillanas Menores es objetivo de considerable atención de parte de viajeros europeos, comerciantes y misioneros. Muchos de ellos escribieron sobre sus
observaciones, produciendo de tal manera una plétora de memorias etnológicas adelantos
a su tiempor , así como mapas de las posesiones coloniales recien obtenidas. Este articulo
examina el registro etnohistórico y cartográfico en el Caribe del período Colonial, con el
objetivo de proporcionar una línea base para una arqueología de la sociedad indígena en las
Antillas Menores en el período Colonial, que aún es por estar iniciado. No sólo el potencial, sino también los problemas asociados con estas líneas de pruebas se discutirá.
Sur le plan archéologique, la transition entre la culture amérindienne précoloniale et coloniale est toujours mal comprise dans les Petites Antilles. Sur la plupart des îles, les dates
radiocarbones ne remontent guère plus loin qu’au début du XVe siècle et l’archéologie de la
société amérindienne de la période coloniale est quasi inexistante. Cependant, dès la moitié
du XVIIe siècle, la société Amérindienne des Petites Antilles a reçu une attention considérable de la part des voyageurs, commerçants et missionnaires européens. Bon nombre d’entre eux ont consigné leurs observations par écrit, laissant une pléthore de comptes-rendus
ethnologiques avant-la-lettre, de même que des cartes des nouvelles possessions coloniales.
Cet article examine la richesse des registres ethno historique et cartographique caribéens

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de la période coloniale, dans le but de fournir une base de référence pour une archéologie
Amérindienne de cette période qui doit encore être engagée dans les Petites Antilles. Nous
discuterons ici non seulement du grand potentiel de cette nouvelle approche, mais aussi des
problèmes qui y sont associés.

Introduction
Archaeologically speaking, the transition from pre-Colonial to Colonial times in the Lesser
Antilles is as yet poorly understood. On many islands, radiocarbon dates extend no later
than the early fifteenth century, and archaeology of Colonial period Amerindian society
is still in its infancy in the Lesser Antilles. Ethnohistorical accounts of Lesser Antillean
Amerindian society are extremely sparse and fleeting at best until the beginning of the seventeenth century, and only really pick up from the mid 1600s onwards. There is a gap of
arguably some 150 years between the first eyewitness accounts of the Spanish in the Lesser
Antilles in the 1490s (Chanca 1993; Columbus 1997) and the more lengthy accounts
produced mainly by French missionaries from the mid-1600s onwards, following in the
wake of permanent European settlement of the region. Prior to that, sporadic and fleeting European forays into the Lesser Antilles yielded sparing, superficial reports, while the
Spanish concentrated their energies on the Greater Antilles and later Middle America and
South America. This leads to a situation of arguably some 250 years during which our view
of Amerindian society is murky at best and non-existent at worst. Therefore, this article
will first sketch the outlines of late pre-Colonial (late phase Late Ceramic Age: AD 10001500) Amerindian society on the basis of archaeological research, before moving on to discuss Amerindian society in Colonial times as glimpsed through ethnohistorical sources and
Colonial cartography. The overview will centre mainly on the Windward Islands, because
most (extensive) ethnohistorical sources focus on the Windward Islands (and Guadeloupe).
Though highly preliminary and far from exhaustive, it is hoped that this selective overview
of early Colonial period resources will go some way in contributing to a yet to be elaborated archaeology of Colonial period Caribbean Amerindian society.

Reconstructing late pre-Colonial-period Amerindian society
The Windward Islands are generally considered to have seen continual occupation from
the Early Ceramic Age (AD 300/400-700) up to Colonial times (Allaire 1977; Boomert
1987; Bullen and Bullen 1972; Drewett, ed. 1991), although radiocarbon evidence for the
Windward Islands in the main does not stretch beyond AD 1300 (see also Bright 2011;
Fitzpatrick 2006). From the 1490s onwards, (ethno)historical sources attest to a significant
Amerindian presence in the region (Anonymous of Carpentras 2002; Breton 1978, 1998;
De Laet 1931; Nicholl 1607). However, the question is not whether there was an indigenous survival, but rather which (indigenous) peoples survived and hence were reported on
in the Early Colonial Period. Unlike the Greater Antillean islands, which seem to have experienced a relatively undisturbed local development from the Early Ceramic Age onwards,
some of the Lesser Antilles (and the southern in particular), apparently saw the continual
arrival of mainland South American newcomers (Hofman et al. 2007; Hofman et al. 2011),
most intensively during the final centuries of the pre-Colonial period (see below).

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In general, Amerindian settlement in the Windward Islands reached its peak during
the late phase of the Late Ceramic Age, with some 100 settlements distributed over the
islands, as well as another 150 smaller sites (Bright 2011). Most Amerindian settlements
are postulated to have been situated along the coast, and close to mollusc-rich mangrove
habitats and offshore coral reefs, rather than to the moist, forested areas and freshwater rivers that were so important in earlier times (Bérard and Vidal 2003:26; Keegan 2000:146).
Settlement layout likewise appears to hold over from earlier times, with no apparent single
structuring principle, and dwellings of varying shapes and sizes (Bright 2003; Morsink
2006). Burial practices are more complex though, with a noticeable shift from communal
to private interment and all kinds of post-mortem manipulation of the grave and the interred taking place (Hofman and Hoogland 2004). Allaire (1991:716-717) characterized
Late Ceramic Age Windward society as Amazonian in the broadest sense of the word,
with its tropical forest ecosystem setting, subsistence based on slash-and-burn cultivation
of manioc, supplemented by hunting and fishing, relatively low populations and simple,
village-based social organization. Allaire (1991:717, 722) also advanced the possibility of
an incipient, more integrated level of social development, in deference to Roosevelt’s work
(underscored by later developments in Amazonian archaeology) and cross-comparative research on coastal societies worldwide. Already far from culturally homogeneous in earlier times, Windward Island society appears to have diversified dramatically in final preColonial times. Regional unity gave way to more localized contact networks perhaps under
the influence of an increasing influx of people from the mainland of South America and
possibly the Greater Antilles and Leeward Islands (Hofman et al. 2007). A number of late
pre-Colonial/early Colonial-period ceramic assemblages evince a marked Guianan influence (particularly of the Koriabo complex), and have been termed Cayo ware (Boomert
1986, 2004, this volume). These ceramics are tentatively linked to the historically recorded
Island Carib (Allaire 1980, 1984; Boomert 1986, 1995, this volume), who recount stories
of their migration from the South American mainland to the islands (see below).
From the late 1400s onwards, we move into the realm of written records for the
Caribbean region, although the accounts discussing the Lesser Antilles remain sparse and
unrepresentative until the advent of the seventeenth century. The ethnohistorical record
will now be considered, first for the Caribbean in general, and then for the Windward
Islands in particular.

Reconstructing early Colonial-period Amerindian society
Having sketched the outlines of an Amerindian islandscape during late pre-Colonial times,
it is time to advance into the Colonial era, and draw what we can from historical sources
and Colonial-period cartography. There is a considerable amount of literature on the use
of ethnohistorical sources by archaeologists, particularly dealing with how “[H]igh levels of cultural continuity […] have prompted archaeologists to examine the historical record
to augment, elucidate and explain prehistoric culture patterns and developments” (Spores
1980:578-579). While archaeological and documentary data are both convergent and parallel categories of evidence, to be utilized together or independently of one another (Spores
1980:579), Wilson (1994) has raised numerous issues concerning the use of ethnohistorical sources by archaeologists. Foremost, there is the issue of mixed epistemologies. Using
historical accounts in conjunction with archaeological data from before contact period
raises similar problems as viewing structure and history in a synthetic fashion: namely the

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difficulty of integrating macroscale and microscale processes [of sociopolitical change] into
a coherent explanation (Wilson 1994:23-24). Ethnohistoric documents record events and
personalities, and give glimpses of the structure of relationships between people, and at
best, insight into the structure and operation of cultural systems. Archaeology addresses
human behaviour on a much larger scale – for example in the numbers and sizes of settlements through time, characteristics and changes through time of artefact assemblages,
settlement patterns and so on. However, for this research, these concerns are less germane,
as the primary intention is not so much to project ethnohistorical findings back into the
archaeological past, but rather to assess the potential for a complementary archaeological
perspective on ehnohistorical source material. A secondary intention would be to compare
late pre-Colonial data to early Colonial information, in a sense bridging the historical divide, to inquire as to what potentially stayed the same and what changes may have taken
place from pre-Colonial to Colonial times.

Which Amerindians?
One of the most intriguing developments in Lesser Antillean society from pre-Colonial to
Colonial times is that of the supposed large-scale arrival of newcomers on the scene from
coastal areas of the Guianas of South America. This phenomenon comes as no surprise to
archaeologists of the region, who have long recognized that insular Caribbean society is
marked by a constant to-ing and fro-ing between islands and mainlands (cf. Hofman� et al.
2007, 2011). The final migration appears to have been more impacting than any earlier
movement though, allegedly entailing the eradication of the male Arawak residents of the
islands and the usurping of the female population for the purposes of the new arrivals, who
came to be known as� Kalinago or Island Carib. However, Boomert (1995:31-32) cautions
that, notwithstanding the Caribs’ own accounts of their arrival, it may be safer for now to
regard them as immigrants rather than invaders������������������������������������������
. According to Breton (1978) these Island
Carib referred to an unspecified mainland origin, while Du Puis (1972) and Du Tertre
(1654) add that they were descended from the mainland Kalibis (i.e. Galibi). All three agree
that the newcomers first settled on Dominica (see also Verrand 2001:103-104). Rochefort
records that the Island Carib themselves claimed descent from the Galibis of Guyana, and
first settled on Tobago, one of the islands closest to the mainland (Rochefort 1658:324330). Rochefort also refers to the mainland origin of the earlier inhabitants of the islands,
highlighting the similarity in language between that spoken by Arawaks of the mainland
and Island Carib women (Hulme and Whitehead 1992:120). Castres (2002:70) does not
make mention of a mainland origin, but writes that the Amerindians believed in a great
flood, which only a man named Loveco survived, from whom they were all descended.
These island testimonies are corroborated by a slightly earlier mainland source, an account written by James Ley around 1608 (Lorimer, ed. 2006). He writes the following:
“The Carybes have tenn Rivers, owya Kayani, Macullia, Cawrur, Surinamma. Towpannoma
and one other little River. And one other little Iland called Dominica; And one Iland
called santa bissin, And one Iland called santa Luea, and an Iland called Camawya, their
Captaine is Mayerawon” (Ley in Lorimer 2006:326-327). The rivers that have been identified (Macuria, Kourou, Suriname and Coppename) are all located in Surinam and French
Guyana, the islands referred to are Dominica, Saint Vincent, Saint Lucia and Grenada (see
also Lorimer 2006:318-320, 326-327). Castres also mentions that the Carib who formerly
possessed many of the Lesser Antillean islands were at the time of his writing mainly estab-

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lished in St. Vincent, Dominica and on the mainland around the Amazon river, near the
Suriname river and close to Cayenne (Castres 2002:74).
As the Colonial period wore on, yet another major demographic upheaval was to
take place however, compounding the hazy view of ethnicity in the area during the early
Colonial period. In the words of Shepard (1971:21): “In the occasional visits to Saint
Vincent, two distinct races of men were discovered, they were of different origins, and
their appearances and manners plainly corresponded with those of different portions of the
globe. One of these tribes had evidently descended from the Aborigines of the Island, those
of the other tribe were as evidently intruders”. The
�������������������������������������������
“intruders” represented the intermixed
groups of Amerindians and escaped African slaves, who came to be known as Black Carib
(cf. Young 1971), and later� Garifuna �������������������������������������������������
(Gonzalez 1988). A number of early sources refer
to several shipwrecks of slaving ships off the coast of St. Vincent or Bequia in the seventeenth century as the inception of this intermingling. Survivors of the shipwreck made it
to the shore and were accepted into Amerindian society (Foster 1987; Gonzalez 1990:25;
Johnson 2007:181). However, Foster (1987) points to the early intermixing of Africans
with Amerindians borne out by three terms in Breton’s 1665 Carib-French dictionary:
“Chibárali, cachíonna, yaboúloupou, sont les enfants engendrés des Sauvages et des Négresses,
qui sont nommés ainsi” �������������������������������������������������������������
(Breton 1998:7). Thus, while the shipwreck may have formed a
considerable impetus to this process of ethnogenesis, there had probably been sporadic incidences of intermingling almost as soon as African slaves arrived in the Caribbean early in
the sixteenth century, as a result of prisoners taken from the Spanish during Island Carib
raids on Puerto Rico (Foster 1987:75; Moreau 1992:69). Their numbers grew as escaped
slaves from other Windward Islands joined up with them in defiance of Colonial authorities (Boomert 2002:150; Gonzalez 1990).
These Black Carib adopted aspects of Island Carib culture, even going so far as to practice cranial modification to set themselves apart from black slaves of Europeans, and called
themselves Kalinago (Shepard 1971:24). “The next generation thus became as it were, a
new race, they gradually quitted the woods, erected huts, and formed little communities
on the coast” (Shepard 1971:24). In time, the Black Carib came to outnumber the original
Carib, and manifested themselves as the most active and effective opponents of European
Colonial venture. According to Shepard, they also initiated hostilities against the Yellow
Carib (i.e. unmixed) populations who “at length were obliged to retire to the Windward
parts of the Island, some fled to the Continent, and some to Tobago” (Shepard 1971:25). 
Having provided the briefest of outlines of late pre-Colonial and early Colonial period
Amerindian lifeways, we now turn to a consideration of the ethnohistorical record and
Colonial cartography for evidence of Amerindian habitation and/or presence in the islands.
While many sources make general remarks about Amerindian lifeways, choices governing
settlement location and the structure of villages (cf. Breton 1978, 1998; Le Breton 1998),
their observations are generally not specific enough to allow identification of any exact settlement locations, and will therefore not be considered here.

Indirect ethnohistorical evidence
Indirect evidence consists of reports of encounters and/or interaction with Amerindians,
for which either the general locality of the encounter or of Amerindians settlements could
potentially be reconstructed.

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“I kept on sailing along the coast of this island [Guadeloupe] without being able to
find a port or a bottom where I could anchor until I reached the north side, where
most of the population lives, and I went in very close to land and anchored with the
whole fleet […] The villages of this island were not many, and they were scattered in
various locations on the edges of the island” (Columbus 1997:205)

“Along the seacoast there were small clusters of hamlets whose inhabitants would all
flee as soon as they noticed our coming” (Chanca 1993:19).

“From the said isle [La Deseade in text, but probably actually Marie-Galante] we
passed to another island, called Guadeloupe, which is very mountainous and inhabited by savages; in it there are numbers of good ports, in one of which, named Macou,
we took in water, and as we landed we saw more than three hundred savages, who fled
into the mountains at our approach […]” (Champlain 1959:6).

On the eve of the 30th of August 1625, General Boudewijn Hendrickszoon arrived
at the south coast of St. Vincent, and anchored six ships in each of the three bays, to
draw more Amerindians on board and to better refresh their dwindling supplies. They
departed again on September 10th, well provisioned (De Laet 1931:93-94).

On June 4th 1630, the Admiral’s fleet found itself just off Barbados, and arrived at
St. Vincent the day after, anchoring off the south coast in the Sint Anthonis Bay (De
Laet 1932:164).

On February 10th 1626, General Boudewijn Hendrickszoon found himself off the
north-west coast of Dominica, near a large sandy bay and a little river where fresh water could be taken in. An Amerindian village was located about half a mile away, whose
inhabitants were described as malevolent and untrustworthy (De Laet 1931:116).

On July 12th 1629, General Pieter Pietersz. Heyn and his fleet anchored off the south
coast of St. Vincent, at the Sint Anthonis Bay. Two other ships had departed a little
before the rest of the fleet, and had arrived at Grenada on June 27th. The crew had
set foot on shore, and had dug a number of holes on the beach to acquire fresh water.
They had also gone a little inland to visit two villages where many Amerindians lived,
who had received them in friendly fashion. These warned them of another group of
Amerindians who lived on the other side of the island in the hills, who were evil and
showed animosity to strangers and even them (De Laet 1932:58).

Commander Jan Jansz. Van Hoorn and his fleet anchored at a bay along the southwest coast of Grenada on June 12th 1629. The Amerindians of the island are described
as being a very malicious people, who all ran off upon the arrival of the Dutch. They
could not be made to come out and converse, but displayed extreme animosity, firing
poisoned arrows at the crew from the thickets. The fleet departed again, laden with
fresh water, ballast and lumber, but no victuals (De Laet 1932:91-92).

Moreau de Jonnès (1920), a Frenchman who aided the Carib in their war against the
English records his arrival at St. Vincent in 1795 by ship among the Red Carib somewhere along the eastern coast. Amerindians in canoes come out from the shore to help
guide the ship past treacherous reefs and banks to their natural harbour, which Moreau
de Jonnès describes as follows:

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This haven was a basin surrounded by a shelf of basalt 15 to 20 feet high; the depth of its water was
enough to float a frigate. Two hillocks covered with a rich vegetation stood on each side of its opening to
the sea, and their tufted trees, bending over the surface, formed a canopy to it. Beside a rushing stream
which flowed from the mountains of the interior into the harbour rose the many huts of a large hamlet,
like beehives in the shape of their roofs, made of palm-leaves, but their wattled sides allowed a free
passage to the breezes and rays of light. In the middle of the village was a communal house containing
an assembly-hall at least 80 feet long; there I found gathered together the chiefs and warriors of the two
tribes, the Red and the Black Caribs (Moreau de Jonnès 1920:115).

Direct ethnohistorical evidence
Direct ethnohistorical evidence is such that Amerindian settlements are described, the
locality of which can be pinpointed quite confidently. Various sources will be considered,
roughly in geographical order from south to north.
Shepard (1831), in his overview of the Second Carib War details the location of several
(temporary) Carib settlements on St. Vincent: the Vigie Carib camp, eastward of the upper Warrawarrou Valley not very far from the Fountain Estate, the Mount Young Carib
settlement, the Wallibo settlement, and the settlement of Grand Sable where the English
smashed 200 Carib canoes. The Morne Rond settlement remained occupied after the conclusion of the war. After the English victory over the Carib in the Second Carib War, the
sentiment of the English settlers on St. Vincent was as follows: “[…] it is represented that
the late attack upon them by the Charaibs was wholly unprovoked; and that in its operation cruelty and perfidy were so blended, that no future confidence can subsist; and that
the sole alternative remains, of themselves, or of the Charaibs being removed from off
the face of the island” (Young 1971:2). The government decided upon a forcible deportation of the majority of the Black Carib to the island of Roatán, off the coast of Honduras
(Gonzalez 1988). However, the Black Carib were initially rounded up and herded onto the
tiny island of Baliceaux, south-east of St. Vincent. Here they were forced to spend many
months awaiting their final removal to Central America. A great number died on the island, weakened by hunger and ravaged by disease, and more died during the passage to
Roatán (Gonzalez 1988).
In 1605, the ship the Olive Branch and its crew had been bound for the new English
colony of Charles Leigh in Guiana, which was in desperate need of supplies and men (Jesse
1966; Lorimer, ed. 2006:xciv; Morgan 2004; see also Boomert 2002 and De Zutter, this
volume). The Olive Branch was soon in dire straits itself though, as it completely missed
its mark of Guiana, due to bad luck and incompetent seamanship. After seventeen weeks of
sailing, the mutinous and starved crewmembers approached the coast of St. Lucia. Indians
from a nearby settlement immediately came out to the ship in their canoes, to trade with
the English. Realizing that the Olive Branch could not stock up on enough provisions to
support the entire crew on its further journey and in light of the apparent goodwill of the
Amerindians, a party under the leadership of Captain Nicholas Saint-Johns decided to
stay behind on the island, until some means of rescue presented itself. The detailed nature
of John Nicholl’s account of the precarious sojourn of the English in the south of the island has allowed Caribbean archaeologist Ripley Bullen (1966) to reconstruct the localities
mentioned in the text and tentatively link some of these localities to known archaeological
sites. Some 200 years later, Pugnet (1804), a French doctor charged with inspecting the

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health of the colonists on St. Lucia, records the presence of a Black Carib family at Choc
along the northwestern coast and a so-called Red Carib family residing at Vieux Fort.
In 1694 on Martinique, Père Labat, on his way to Cul-de-Sac Robert by canoe, got
caught in a squall and sought refuge at la Pointe à la Rose. A Carib family lived here, and
Labat described the family, the house and its visitors in detail: “This building is the last
Carib Carbet remaining in Martinique. It was about sixty feet long by twenty-five feet
wide and built something like a barn. The smallest posts were about nine feet high out of
the ground. The rafters reached the ground on each side, and were covered by a thatch of
palmiste leaves supported by lathes of roseaux. One end of the carbet was entirely closed
by a wall of roseaux and palmiste, except for an opening leading to the kitchen, the other
end was open (Labat 1970:87-89). A few years later, in 1700, Labat was on his way to
Guadeloupe, but stopped off at Dominica to take on a cargo of lumber. His ship anchored
on the leeward side of the island opposite the carbet of Madame Ouvernard (the mother
of Thomas ‘Indian’ Warner) (Labat 1970:92). Labat then crossed the island to the windward side where he spent a further six days, visiting many carbets “from the point facing
Macouba to the point facing Marie Galante” (Labat 1970:96). One of these Windward side
carbets may have been that of the Dominican Carib chief Oüalláchoüala (known to the
French as Le Baron) or his followers, who is mentioned in the earlier chronicles of the mid1600s and was in fact the host of Father Breton (Breton 1998:73). Le Baron’s settlement
was called Itachi (Breton 1998:237), and was at or near present-day Vieille Case.
Concerning Guadeloupe, Carib were confined to isolated areas of Grande-Terre, where
even there their numbers dwindled over the years, presumably under the impact of encroaching Europeans. In 1730, some seventy-six Amerindians were recorded and in 1746,
Carib are reported as living on Ilet à Christophe in the Grand-Cul-de-Sac. In the nineteenth century, a number of Carib families are recorded at Anse du Petit Portland, and by
1855, the last Amerindians are documented to have taken refuge at Anse-Bertrand, Pointe
des Châteaux and Le Moule. The last mention of Amerindians on Guadeloupe comes towards the end of the nineteenth century, when descendants of the Carib of Anse-Bertrand
claim land to the west of Pointe de la Grande Vigie (Delpuech 2001:31-32).

The use of historic maps
Similarly to recent work in the field of Indonesian archaeology (Lape 2002), I propose to
make greater use of the considerable potential of historic maps as testimonies of indigenous Amerindian activity. Of course, every map is essentially a “social construction of the
world expressed through cartography” (Harley 2001:35), and as such harbours the same
potential for manipulation and bias as any other type of historical evidence. Glazier (1983)
was perhaps the first Caribbeanist to explicitly address the research potential of “antique”
maps for the study of Caribbean prehistory, highlighting four potentially fruitful areas of
inquiry: (1) the location of archaeological sites (mission sites and aboriginal settlements),
(2) linguistic and ethnicity data in the form of toponyms, (3) cartouches that portray native flora and fauna and, (4) evidence of tribal migrations (Glazier 1983:556). Particularly
the first two points will be taken up here. As above, evidence will be divided into direct and 

The term ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Red Carib as employed by Colonial European chroniclers generally means Amerindians of pure descent (cf. also the term Yellow Carib), as opposed to the Black Carib, who are of mixed African and Amerindian
descent.

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communities in contact

indirect, and discussed in that order. Under direct cartographic evidence falls any depiction
of Amerindian settlements or other type of presence. Indirect evidence of Carib presence
or settlement takes one of the following four forms: (1) indication of Amerindian presence,
usually in form of a visualized trading encounter, (2) approximate location of settlement
(proximity assumed), (3) general areas demarcated as Amerindian, and (4) Amerindian
toponymy.

Direct cartographic evidence
On the 1770 Jefferys map of Tobago, mention is made of an “Indian Town”, and three villages which are singled out as residences of Kings (Cardinal, Peter and Roussel – actually
a Frenchman who had taken an Amerindian wife) and furnished with extra information
(see also Boomert 2002). As such, we read that “King Peter the Indian Chief with about
14 or 16 People lives hereabouts”, “The Indian King Cardinal with his Wives and about
80 People live on a hill hereabouts” and “The Indian King Rouselle with his Wives and
People about 30 in Number lives here”. In addition, there are three mentions of “Indians”.
Five years later, King Cardinal was dropped from an updated map, as was the additional
information with which the two other Kings had been furnished. They are now simply
referred to as “King Peter’s People 16” and “King Roussel’s People”. The Indian Town referred to before now reverts to the simple “Indians” gloss, joining the three other “Indians”
references. By the time Bowen published his 1779 map of Tobago in London’s Gentleman’s
Magazine, King Peter had apparently disappeared from the scene, and only three mentions
of “Indians” were made. This gradual erasing of Amerindian presence from the maps is
perhaps reflective of the increasingly marginal Amerindian presence on Tobago as a result
of European encroachment.
Bellin’s St. Lucia maps of 1758/1763 are the first to record the location of a Carib settlement, in the form of a gloss “Carbet de Caraibes” midway along the eastern coast just
south of present-day Anse Louvet (see also figure 1). It is perhaps no coincidence that the
site is located beside Anse Mabouya (mabouya ������������������������������������������
is the term repeatedly recorded by French
missionaries among the Amerindians of the Lesser Antilles for the devil or an evil spirit)
as on the map.
Jefferys’ 1775 map of St. Lucia (see also Hofman and Bright 2004: Map 2) upholds this
identification, now glossed as “Caribs” and embellished with a cluster of three triangles
(the standard cartographic convention for an Amerindian settlement at this time). Lefort
de Latour’s survey map of 1787 makes no mention of Carib anymore, not at this location
or anywhere else on the island, and is probably more reliable than the later Fielding map of
1823 which repeats the presence of “Caribs”, but is likely an uninformed copy of an earlier
map, perhaps that of Jefferys.
A number of precise indications of Amerindian settlements are provided for Martinique
too. A 1657 map of Martinique by Visscher depicts numerous Carib localities, most
notably one near present-day Anse Figuier along the southern coast (glossed as Carbet
de Capitaine Pilote), another near present-day Le Vauclin along the southeastern coast
(glossed as Carbet, lieu ou les Caraibes font leur [sic] assembleés) and a settlement referred to
as Case de Caerman (a Carib chief ) near present-day Ste-Marie along the north-east coast.
There are a further three mentions of Carbet de Caraibes, one along the south-east coast
near present-day Malevaut, and two more halfway up the eastern coast at the start of and
along the first part of the peninsula now called Presqu’île de la Caravelle. Sanson’s map

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315

Figure 1 Bellin’s Carte de l’Isle de Sainte Lucie 1758 and close-up of Carbet Caraibes.

(Bodington 2005), published just a year later than Visscher’s, includes far fewer indications
of Amerindian presence: only Carbet du Capitaine Pilote and Carbet, lieu ou les Caraibes
font leur [sic] assembleés are retained. A 1665 map by Blondel depicts only the latter Carib
locality (Verrand 2001: figure 1). Interestingly enough, a 1705 map by Nicholas de Fer
depicts a new Carib locality, an assembly of houses glossed as Carbet de Sauvages Macabou
(Huyghues-Belrose 2008:7).

Indirect cartographic evidence
Concerning visualized trading encounters, the maps accompanying Nicolas de Cardona’s
account Geographic and hydrographic descriptions of many Northern and Southern lands and
seas in the Indies, specifically of the discovery of the kingdom of California (1974) are fine
examples. Of particular interest with respect to Island Carib are the maps of Grenada,
St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Guadeloupe, which depict stretches of coastline and trading

316

communities in contact

Figure 2 Map of Guadeloupe (Champlain 1859:between pages 6 and 7).

encounters with Amerindians that took place there, often in the form of one or several
Amerindian canoes coming out to meet the Spanish ships. Thanks to the compass orientation, these encounters can be pinpointed to the northern coasts of Grenada, St. Lucia and
St. Vincent, and the western coast of either Basse-Terre or Grande-Terre. A more intensive
examination of the coastline features (bays, headlands and river mouths) may allow a more
precise topological determination.
The map of Guadeloupe included in Samuel Champlain’s Narrative of a voyage to the
West Indies and Mexico in the years 1599-1602 (1859) depicts a troupe of naked Amerindians
armed with bow-and-arrow and spears in the west, as well as three Amerindian barn-like
longhouse structures in the northern part of the island (see Figure 2). The map actually lists
a “pot de nacou” (cf. Macou mentioned above), as well as Europeans disembarking along
what appears to be the east coast of Basse-Terre.
Ligon’s 1657 map of Barbados is a last example of an interesting yet somewhat enigmatic Amerindian cartographic presence. Upon a detailed map (presumably containing accurate information on slave chasing, family estates and local animals), we find a depiction
of an Amerindian with a tall bow and a canoe, glossed as “Salymingoe his Canowe 35 foot
longe” (see also Handler 1977:191-193).

General areas demarcated as Amerindian
An example of indeterminate cartographic information on Carib settlement of islands is
the mapping of Martinique throughout the latter half of the seventeenth century. Starting
with Visscher’s 1657 map, and continuing with Sanson’s 1658 map, Van Keulen’s 1684 map

Bright

317

and Norwood’s 1690 map, the entire eastern half of the island is designated “Cabesterre,
ou demeure des Sauvages”. However, by 1660, the designation would actually have been
outdated, as the Carib had begun to vacate the island during the mid 1650s as a result of
wars against the French, and were largely removed from the island following the signing
of a treaty with the French and English in 1659 that allegedly secured for them eternal
possession of St. Vincent and Dominica (Boucher 1992:50-52). The St. Vincent map by
Bryan Edwards features the gloss “Land granted to the Charibs in 1773” across the northern part. This concurs with article IV of the 1773 Treaty between the English and the
Carib: “A portion of the lands hereafter mentioned, shall be allotted for the residence of
the Caribs, from the River Byera to point Espagnole on the one side, and from the River
Auilabou to Espagnole on the other side” (Shepard 1971:31). Jefferys’ 1773 map of St.
Vincent reveals the glosses “Caribs of Warrawarou Valley” and “Caribs of Cubaimarou and
Ribishi” as well as showing the “Caribs Boundary” and labelling land north of the boundary “Caribs Lands”. Byres’ 1776 map of St. Vincent shows plots of land sold to “Charibbs”
in Warrawarrou Valley, Ribishi and Cubaimarou, and in the eastern, western and central
parts of St. Vincent above the line demarcating the 1773 Treaty boundary (Byres 1777:vii).
Furthermore, it shows a plot of land just above the Treaty line on the west coast sold by the
Carib to Colonel Etherington in 1775 (Byres 1777:vii). Lucas Fielding’s 1823 map is of
course much less detailed, though it retains the Treaty boundary line and bears the designation “Indians of Cubaimarou and Ribishi” in the south-east quadrant of the island.

Toponymy
The recording of Amerindian toponymy and hydronomy commenced as early as Columbus,
was elaborated by Breton in his dictionnaire, and finally analysed by Taylor (1956, 1958;
site level, St. Vincent and Dominica), Huyghues-Belrose (2009; site level, Martinique)
L’Étang (2004; island level, Caribbean) and Boomert (2001; island level, Tobago) in particular. Special note should be made of the work by Granberry and Vescelius (2004),
who analysed various Taíno toponyms, partly for clues as to directionality and order of
settlement of the Bahamas archipelago. In addition, Allaire (1977:88) has suggested for
Martinique that the toponyms Paquemar, Macabou, Simon, François and Vauclin all refer to (the residences of ) Amerindian chiefs. The same could be said for Ile de Caerman
and Anse d’Arlet (Martinique). On St. Lucia an obvious contender for a toponym with
links to Amerindians is Pointe Caraibe or Caraibe Point, in the south-west corner of the
island. The significance of the placename Anse Mabouya has already been mentioned in
the discussion of the Bellin and Jefferys maps. Bellin’s 1758 map of Grenada lists several
toponyms that may recall Amerindian presence: Ance des Galibis, Ance des Maringoins
(cf. a similar placename in French Guiana but more likely a generic term that refers to the
presence of mosquitoes) and Ance Caouenne (corruption of Caïrouane) (Petitjean Roget
1975:64), Ance du Quesne (Petitjean Roget 1975:65) and Ance d’Antoine / Islet d’Antoine
(Petitjean Roget 1975:21), all Carib chiefs mentioned in the ethnohistorical record. The
capital city of Barbados, Bridgetown, was originally called Indian Bridge, presumably after
an Amerindian structure in the vicinity (Challenger et al. 1999). The toponyms Indian
Mound and Indian River (also on Dominica) presumably have a similar bearing on the
original island inhabitants.

318

communities in contact

Concluding remarks
Considering that we are dealing with late pre-Colonial / early Colonial period remains,
there is every chance that archaeological recovery of Carib finds could be problematic. The
shallow depth of the remains below the surface, the potential for disturbance by Colonial
and modern day activities such as ploughing and construction as well as (coastal) erosion
or lack of soil development would all conspire to make retrieval of these remains more difficult than older, deeper remains. However, recent rescue excavations carried out by teams
from Leiden University at the site of Argyle on St. Vincent (Hoogland et al. in prep; Van
den Biggelaar and Boomert 2010) have yielded Cayo ceramics, European Colonial ceramics and glass beads in the context of a settlement with posthole features that can be reconstructed into numerous Amerindian house plans. As such, ongoing excavation at this site
that was first excavated by Allaire in the early 1990s (Allaire 1994; Allaire and Duval 1995)
underlines the great potential of an Island/Black Carib archaeology and hints at many
more fascinating discoveries that can be made by sound (ethno)historical research into this
period coupled with opportune excavation. Reviewing the late pre-Colonial and Colonial
period data, it is clear that there is enough potential to establish a new line of enquiry into
Lesser Antillean Carib society informed, though not conditioned by, direct and indirect
lines of evidence drawn from Colonial period ethnohistory, cartography and toponymy.

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A n ethnohistorical approach of
Carib through written sources

the

The example of the Relation by Jacques Bouton

Bernard Grunberg

Jacques Bouton, the first religious chronicler of Martinique (1640), gives an interesting
description of the island and its inhabitants. Although it is primarily a work of ‘propaganda’ designed to assist and promote the colonization of the island, the fact remains that in
the last two chapters of his book, the author offers a brief description of the Carib, which
will very often be referred to in the vast literature on the indigenous population. We inted
to find out how this text was written and what information we can draw from it for our
knowledge of the Carib of Martinique.
Primer cronista religioso de Martinica (1640), Jacques Bouton da una interesante descripción de la isla y sus habitantes. Aunque se trata sobre todo de una obra de ‘propaganda’, destinada a ayudar y a promover la colonización de la isla, eso no impide que en los dos
últimos capítulos de su crónica, el autor nos entrega una descripción sucinta de los Caribes,
que muy a menudo servirá de referencia a numerosos escritos respeto a esta población indígena. Intentaremos conocer cómo este texto fue escrito y cuáles son las informaciones que
podemos sacar para nuestro conocimiento de los Caribes de Martinica.
Premier chroniqueur religieux de la Martinique (1640), Jacques Bouton donne une description intéressante de l’île et de ses habitants. S’il s’agit surtout d’une oeuvre de ‘propagande’,
destinée à aider et promouvoir la colonisation de l’île, il n’en reste pas moins que dans les
deux derniers chapitres de son ouvrage, l’auteur nous livre une description succincte des
Caraïbes, qui servira très souvent de référence à de nombreux écrits sur cette population
indigène. Nous chercherons à savoir comment ce texte a été écrit et quelles sont les informations que nous pouvons en tirer pour notre connaissance des Caraïbes de Martinique.

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Introduction
West Indian research, and particularly the study of Amerindians, still suffers from difficult
access to the printed or manuscript sources, including those in French, concerning the
Lesser Antilles dating from the late fifteenth century to the seventeenth century (c.1493c.1690). Obviously, we are not concerned by the writings of J.B. Labat or J.B. Du Tertre,
but by chronicles, letters and travel accounts published once, often in only a few copies,
or unpublished. These documents are essential in order to understand the society of the
islands in the seventeenth century, and particularly the indigenous peoples, who would
virtually disappear under French rule in the Lesser Antilles in under a century. It is in
this context that the program Edition d’un corpus complet de sources rares ou inédites sur les
Petites Antilles (1493-1660) was born, funded by the National Research Agency (ANR) and
directed by Professor B. Grunberg at the University of Reims. Disciplinary diversity being now well placed in historical and scientific studies, it seemed clear to us that to simply
restrict ourselves to documentary sources, would be to deprive ourselves of a whole range
of West Indian research currently underway: Caribbean archeology.
The originality and purpose of this program is to provide for the first time a comprehensive body of sources, rare and unpublished, on the Lesser Antilles in the late fifteenth
to the mid-seventeenth century, particularly in the area of the islands which would be under French control in the seventeenth century and to facilitate the study of Amerindian
populations of this region: ‘the Caribbean Islands’. The body’s aim is to provide a reference
tool and to simplify access to the sources, the wide dissemination of these documents to be
presented scientifically, including translations of Latin, Spanish, Italian and English texts,
biographies of authors, critical tools to clarify the content of texts, etc.
The highest strictness became a primary requirement for the study of the sources selected for the development of the corpus. If it seemed really necessary to publish or republish
material from the corpus, it had to have been consulted first. It was therefore necessary to
ascertain the exact location of the originals (or copies) to verify the transcripts included
in previous editions, to examine the nature of the document for manuscript works (original document written by the hand of a columnist, or contemporary copy of the original
work or later). Once this work was completed, several cases emerged. Either the document
was unpublished, in which case it was necessary to make a copy and transcribe it, or the
document which had already been published showed errors and it was necessary to restore
the text’s integrity, or the document had already been published in its original version
and it was enough to transcribe. Overall, the first two cases are the most common ones.
Currently, a large part of critical publishing has been produced and all will be delivered to
the public in early 2012.
In addition to these documentary sources, we must take stock of West Indian archeology. From bringing these documentary and archaeological sources to light follows a dual
comparative and complementary approach. As far as the archaeological sources are concerned, the most relevant approach is to synthesize current knowledge in this field: the migration patterns of the Caribbean Islands and the study of the characteristics of Caribbean
material culture. However, it should be emphasized that these indigenous people of the 

The main associates of this program are: Corinne L. Hofman (Leiden University), André Delpuech (Musée du
Quai Branly) and Benoît Bérard (Université des Antilles et de la Guyane).

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communities in contact

Lesser Antilles are not at all in the seventeenth century what they were in the fifteenth century, during their encounter with the Europeans (De la Borde 1674).
This program goes far beyond the simple framework of filing data. If this is indeed
about publishing one or more books with a scientific edition of texts and providing an
overview as complete as possible of the archaeological findings.

The chronicles of Jacques Bouton (1640)
In 1635, Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc left with hundreds of settlers from St. Kitts to colonize
Martinique. He was accompanied by a monk, Father Hyacinth, who went with him in
order to celebrate the religious ceremony marking the takeover of the island, shortly after
which the monk returned to St. Kitts (Rennard 1954:39). Not having any religious figure in Martinique, in late 1636 directors of the Company of the Islands of America, who
ran the islands and monopolized the trade, decided to send Capuchins, but these are long
awaited (Rennard 1954:40). For Rennard, this Order, which encountered some difficulties, including a first failure in Guadeloupe, was reluctant to take on Martinique. Before
1640, this island did not have any permanent religious authority and the ‘divine service’
was provided by a few secular priests. Once it became clear that the Capuchins were not
coming, the Company, including François Fouquet, one of the leading members, called
upon the Jesuits in 1638 for help, who then accepted. On November 25, 1639, Bouton,
Le Clerc and Hampteau embarked at Nantes for America.
Jacques Bouton, born in Nantes June 19, 1590, in a wealthy family (his father was a
merchant), entered the novitiate of Rouen in 1610 and studied philosophy and theology at
Louis le Grand (Paris). After graduating, he carried out his profession of the four vows at
La Flèche (1628) and became professor at Rouen, Bourges, Rennes, Paris and the College
of La Flèche (Sarthe). Though being ill, he was appointed principal of La Flèche boarding school (1635-1636), before directing the college of Rennes (1636-1639). He left for
Martinique in 1639 to set up a mission there. He went back to France after a few months
to get more money and then wrote his Relation. On orders from his superiors, he returned
to Martinique in 1642 to definitively establish the Jesuit mission, but falling sick, he was
obliged to leave the island. He returned to teach at La Fleche (1643-45), at Quimper 







The Dominican Pierre Pélican Superior of the Mission of the Indies, made a layover in Martinique in June 1635,
before leaving for Guadeloupe (Camus 1982:���
9).
After the arrival of the Jesuits, Capuchins asked to settle in the island. In 1642, the Propaganda would reply
granting their request but Jesuits would keep their parishes and Capuchins would be able to create new ones,
because of the increasing population (Rennard 1954:44).
They went to Martinique at their own expense, but were not paid by the Company. They received a small fee
there from those who made them come (Rennard 1954:40).
The Company asked for three religious people to whom it would grant two or three servants and 600 ‘livres tournois’ to settle on the island, (Rennard 1954:41). Petitjean Roget (1980:797): “La Martinique doit l’installation
des Jésuites à la protection toute spéciale du président Foucquet, l’un des directeurs. Le père Pelleprat en
témoignage de gratitude dédiera sa Relation de 1655 au fils de ce dernier, le Surintendant Nicolas Foucquet”.
Pelleprat wrote in his epistle : “Il n’a pas seulement été l’auteur du dessein qu’on prit d’envoyer des pères de
notre Compagnie dans les îles mais il en a toujours si puissamment protégé les Missions que si elles lui doivent
leur commencement, elles ne lui sont pas moins obligées de leur conservation ” (cf. Pelleprat 2009 [1655] :53).
Du Tertre (1978 :134) claims that preference was given by “Président Foucquet qui aimait la Compagnie des
RP Jésuites’ in spite of letters of du Parquet who ‘demanda des Religieux de notre ordre ou des RP Capucins”.
Bouton does not give the date of departure, he only writes “le vendredi vingt-cinquième de novembre, jour de
Sainte Catherine” (Bouton1640:1). This Friday corresponds only to the year 1639.
The Jesuits add to the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, that of obedience to the Pope.

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(1645-48) and then at Bourges (1648-51) before returning to La Flèche where he died
November 17, 1658.
We seek to illustrate and to understand what Bouton’s mission in Martinique was about
and how he described this island dealing with all the qualities conducive to a colonial settlement. Then we will show how Bouton perceived the natives: a perception which was a
source for many writers, even a model of stereotypical views of the Carib.

Bouton’s mission
A long and perilous journey
Leaving Nantes November 25, 1639, the Jesuits’ ship endured “more than five weeks” of
storm and bad weather, and had to take refuge in a port in Devon. The Missionaries remained in England for six weeks (from January 6 to February 20) before going to America;
they crossed the Canaries then the Cape Verde Islands before arriving in Barbados on April
2, where they learned that the Carib had attacked Guadeloupe. It would take them four
days to reach their destination.

The arrival in Martinique
The Jesuits arrived in Martinique on April 6. The Company had already issued orders for
them to be properly welcomed and well accommodated (Rennard 1954:III 41-42). Du
Parquet, the governor of the island, welcomed them “very courteously”. As the Missionaries,
according to Bouton (1640:I 84), did not want to stay at his home for fear of bothering
him, they were lodged by Du Parquet in his chaplain’s hut, awaiting construction of their
homes. But, according to Du Tertre, the “governor who had not requested them found
himself at first very reluctant to receive them”.10 Bouton himself noted that he had gone
“to lead many well-armed men turtle fishing... [and to] establish the guard for the safety of
fishermen, and to learn if war would break out against the Savages”.11 With the fishing being done and the news reassuring, at the end of April the governor went to the place where
he had decided to settle the Jesuits. After clearing the land, near Fort St. Pierre, their house
was built of wood and May 13, the Jesuits could move in and “start [their] duties, to the
glory of God”.12 But it seems that the settlers looked poorly upon the arrival of the Jesuits
whom in their eyes, had been sent by the Company (Du Tertre 1984:I 134).
Indeed, the settlers, who accused the Company of the Islands of America of not sending them the necessities to sustain life on the island, turned their resentment against the
Jesuits going as far as wanting to deport them. Given the turmoil that rocked Martinique,
Philippe Longvilliers de Poincy, d’Esnambuc’s successor, lieutenant general of the islands,
announced the deployment of a commissioner if the governor and the inhabitants did not 

“Dieu ne nous voulait pas si peu de bien, il nous fit enfin trouver l’entrée du havre de Habledol, qui va jusqu’à
deux petites villes nommées Bédifort, et Barnstaple” (Bouton 1640:I 8). From this point on all references to
Bouton’s text will be given by the chapter number, followed by the pagination of the original text of 1640. 
“L’irruption des Sauvages dans la Guadeloupe” (Bouton 1640:I 23).
10 “Gouverneur qui ne les avait pas demandés se trouva d’abord fort peu disposé à les recevoir” (Du Tertre 1978:
I 134).
11 “Mener nombre d’hommes bien armés à la pêche de la tortue [... et] établir des corps de garde pour la sûreté des
pêcheurs, et apprendre si on aurait guerre contre les Sauvages”(Bouton I 25).
12 “Commencer [leurs] fonctions, à la gloire de Dieu” (Bouton 1640:1 26-27).

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follow orders. The people rebelled and decided to secede. The commissioner arrived just
days after, carrying a letter asking Bouton to restore order and assist the commissioner.
Bouton found a compromise, and the inhabitants entrusted him with the task of presenting their needs (David 1984:30-33) before the directors of the Company. This was confirmed by Du Tertre, which emphasizes that Bouton, who was “a worthy man and an excellent preacher, touched them with his preaching and made them change their minds”.13
Bouton left his colleagues Hampteau and Le Clerc to look after the Jesuit mission and
left probably in July. He went on to visit Dominica14, Guadeloupe (Bouton 1640:IV 57,
VI 84) and perhaps St. Kitts (David 1984:32). Arriving in Paris, he wrote, September 17,
1640, to the general of his Order and began to write the Relation, to be published before
the end of the year, as reflected in the Permission by Jacques Dinet, Provincial Society of
Jesus, dated October 6, 1640 (Bouton 1640:V).

Bouton’s report on his mission
Upon his return, Bouton sought ways to ensure the life of the Jesuit mission in Martinique,
especially by trying to send other Jesuits there. Jacques Dinet authorized the departure of
just one Jesuit, Louis Conard, who left late in 1640 for Martinique. On January 2, 1641,
he presented a report to Fouquet that required the directors to order Du Parquet to expand
their houses of the Missionaries. On February 6, 1641, the Directors of the Company wrote
to the governor to see “if the house of the Jesuit Fathers could be easily extended”15 and if
not, where to find another one. Furthermore, the Company provided them with six attendants, who were exempted from other duties and Du Parquet shall “if he brings Negroes to
the island to sell and that the Jesuits are asking for some” they can be “lent a couple”.16 In
July 1641, the Company sent 200 livres tournois for Father Hampteau to Martinique. The
Jesuit provincial was not very prone to sending Missionaries to the islands. It is only at the
end of 1641 that he authorized a couple of Jesuits to leave, Father Conard and Brother
Burel. Bouton stayed in France, probably thinking that he had to continue trying to have
more religious people in order to maintain the Mission in Martinique. In September 1642,
the directors gave him 500 livres tournois “to build and furnish their homes” and give free
passage to the missionaries and their servants and a certain sum to provide for their needs
once there.17 Bouton found two new fathers, Du Market and Larcanier, who embarked
with him in early November 1642.
Having just returned to France, Bouton publishes his Relation18, written for the
Messieurs de la Compagnie des îles de l’Amérique. He expresses in his preface that he had, as
had been expected, given assistance to the settlers’ salvation. When he decided to publish
13 “Homme de mérite et excellent prédicateur” (Du Tertre 1978:I 134).
14 “Comme nous passions à notre retour par la Dominique, un sauvage vint vers nous jusqu’à mi chemin, mais
si tôt qu’il aperçut notre petit bateau qui était derrière le vaisseau, il s’en retourna bien vite” (Bouton 1640:IX
116).
15 “Si l’habitation des Pères Jésuites se peut accroître facilement” (David 1984:32).
16 “S’il amène des nègres à vendre dans l’île et que les pères jésuites en demandent quelques uns [leur en] bailler
un couple” (David 1984:32).
17 The Jesuits obtained a loan of “400 francs de selon la valeur du pays et 200 francs en argent pour leurs nécessités”; servants were granted aboard “jusqu’à ce que l’on leur ai baillé des nègres, qui sera lorsqu’il en viendra en
l’île”. A total of eight servants of the main residence didn’t have to pay the so-called taxe (capitation), and only
four of them of the other house. Finally the directors specified that if there were still priests on the island they
should rely upon the Jesuits (David 1984:32).
18 “Donner au public ce petit narré”(Bouton 1640:II).

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the Relation, it was with the intention of disabusing “those who [could not] believe that
there [was] so much good on [the] island, that [their] care and devotion [had] provided,
and so much hope that it [could] later grow, God willing, with the same means given at
the beginning”.19 It also attempted to enlighten the “ignorant” who did not know what
was really happening on the islands (III). Of course, it was also about praising the members of the Company of the Islands of America by noting what they had already “done in
the past”, and by silencing the criticism of those who “criticize them for not getting what
they wanted”, accusing them of being, by their own mistakes, the source of disorders in
these lands.20 While Bouton is lucid, he was able to witness the destitution of the settlers,
to whom he felt partly connected, and he was not afraid to express the following criticism,
albeit very courteously: “if I highlighted a few flaws and necessities as things of this world
which are not all perfect in their beginning, it is only to show how much responsibility
you gain for the inhabitants of these islands, continuing to employ such care and such
expenditure to put them at ease”.21 Finally, he publishes the Relation in order to encourage
departures because, has he said, “it is also important that those who want to go there, learn
that they can reasonably promise themselves what they can legitimately desire for their
spiritual and temporal benefit”.22
Bouton had clearly read a lot of works on the New World. We know he knew the
writings of the Canadian Jesuit missionaries, including those of Marc Lescarbot, Jérôme
Lalemant and Paul Le Jeune.23 Bouton’s Relation probably refers to these stories by talking
about birds24, the burial grounds of the Carib25 and about the island canoes that differed
markedly from those of the Canadians26. But especially Bouton sees the Carib to be less
cruel than the Indians of Canada, probably because the latter had killed many of his religious brothers.27
It is clear that during the few weeks he remained in Martinique (less than three months),
Bouton, despite his great intelligence, did not have time to note down all the elements that
make up the Relation. He had to use either tales or, and most likely, the writings that were
at his disposal. However, the author of the Relation de l’établissement des Français does not
19 “Ceux qui ne peuvent croire qu’il y ait maintenant tant de bien en cette île, que vos soins et votre piété y en ont
procuré, et tant d’espérance qu’il croisse à l’avenir au point qu’il croîtra, Dieu aidant, par les mêmes moyens qui
lui ont donné commencement” (Bouton 1640:II).
20 “Fait par le passé [...] décrient pour n’y avoir pas trouvé leur compte” (Bouton 1640:III).
21 “����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Que si j’ai marqué quelques défauts et nécessités, comme les choses de ce monde n’ont pas toute leur perfection
dans leur commencement, c’est pour faire voir combien vous acquerrez d’obligations sur les habitants de ces îles,
continuant d’employer tant de soins, et faire tant de dépenses pour les mettre à leur aise” (Bouton 1640:III).
22 “E�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
st aussi important que ceux qui y veulent aller apprennent qu’ils peuvent avec raison se promettre ce qu’ils
peuvent légitimement désirer pour leur profit et spirituel et temporel�����������������������
”����������������������
(Bouton 1640:III-IV).
23 Lescarbot (1609) but as far as Jérôme Lalemant and Paul Le Jeune are concerned cf. Lalemant and Le Jeune
(1896-1901).
24 “Puisque nous avons parlé des oiseaux, je veux marquer icI, que nous n’en avons ouï aucun qui mérite d’être
pris  pour son chant, et qu’il y a aussi en ce pays comme au Canada, certains petits oisillons d’un très beau
plumage, qui vivent de fleurs aussi bien que les abeilles: nous les appelons colibris” (Bouton 1640 :V 73).
25 “De religion on n’en reconnaît aucune parmi eux. Ils ont quelque connaissance de l’immortalité de l’âme,
d’autant qu’ils donnent aux âmes des défunts, comme les Canadiens, des hardes, des vivres pendant quelques
jours, et des meubles pour les servir” (Bouton 1640:IX 106)
26 “Outre ces canots, faits d’une pièce de bois, et non pas de l’écorce d’un arbre comme ceux des Canadiens, ils
ont des pirogues, fait[e]s de deux ou trois pièces; [elles] sont plus grand[e]s que les canots, et y en a qui portent
quarante et cinquante hommes” (Bouton 1640:X 127).
27 “Ils tuent et mangent leurs captifs avec mille cérémonies, et cruautés, non pas toutefois si grandes que celles des
Canadiens”(Bouton 1640:X 127).

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give us any information. We know nothing of the sources that Bouton was able to consult,
or of the informants who could have given him information.
A manuscript of the book written by Bouton is not known but it can be reasonably
guessed that he wrote it himself. He needed only to refer to the style of his readings, with
references to his visits. The book contains eleven chapters, which can be divided into four
groups: a story of the journey (Ch.1), the geographical description and natural history of
“French Martinique” (Ch. 2 and 3) the advantages and disadvantages of colonizing an island (Ch. 4, 5, 6, 7, 11) and the description of the island’s populations (Ch. 8, 9, 10).
The composition of the book shows that this is primarily a work of propaganda on
behalf of the Company of the Islands of America, of whom Bouton was the “servant”.
The four chapters detailing the overwhelming positives far outweigh the single chapter on
the drawbacks. The fact remains that the description, fast indeed, of the “Wild Caribs”
is the first real printed narrative we have on the indigenous inhabitants of Martinique
(Anonymous of Carpentras 1994).

Bouton’s return to Martinique
In November 1642, Fathers Bouton, Charles du Marché and Robert Larcanier went overseas to join Fathers Hampteau and Conard in Martinique. From that moment on, the island had six Jesuits, according to the wish of the Company. While we do not know exactly
what Bouton was doing on the island, it is certain that he did all that was necessary for a
lasting settlement of the mission.
But, tired and sick, and being perhaps no longer necessary, Bouton probably became a
problem for his companions, who deemed it wise to return him to mainland France. It is
towards mid-October in 1643 that Bouton embarks, probably with Fathers Conard and
Du Marché, leaving the mission to trustworthy men who will not only maintain it but
also increase it despite the settlement of new religious people, the Dominicans and the
Capuchins (Rennard 1954:43).

An island in favour of colonial settlement
The assets of Martinique
��
First of all, the weather: the island has no winter (II, 29) 28
and the vegetation is evergreen
(II, 29). The second asset is the importance of its rivers (II, 31) and the presence of a good
port for ships to Fort Royal (II, 31).
Bouton, who read letters from his colleagues in Canada, shows that the island may in
large part allow the development of a colony due to the strong support of agriculture. The
Jesuit noted the importance of local products, cassava (IV, 52-54), native edible plants such
as palm, Caribbean cabbage, etc. (IV, 47-48) and exotic fruits (V, 61-63). He also insists
on the presence of many herbs (IV, 45). But for him the most important aspect is that
European plants such as peas and beans, easily acclimatize to the West Indies (IV, 49) while
citrus fruits can be grown successfully (V, 58-59 ). The colonists or future settlers should,
in his view, have no concerns for their food supply. And as if that was not enough, he adds
that the island has varied game (V, 71-77) and a sea of fish (V, 77-78). Martinique is thus
a land of plenty, a paradise.

28 Chapter number, followed by the pagination of the original text of 1640.

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Bouton also considers the products grown on the island for export, designed to enrich
the Company: tobacco (VI, 80), cotton (VI, 81) and sugar (VI, 82-83). To this trio, he can
add anatto and sulfur (VI, 83-84). He does not forget, however, because he heard complaints from settlers that there was a lack of manufactured goods on the island, including
fabrics, traditional utensils and other objects of daily life which should therefore be imported some to satisfy the needs of the inhabitants of Martinique (VI, 86-87), especially as
the population was sorely lacking artisans (II, 32).

The barriers to the settlement
Bouton identified three “inconveniences” that may cause problems for settlers. First, there
are fevers: “It is wonderful if someone escapes, from those who have arrived on the islands,
who had four or five attacks of fever, even more, that he is bled on arrival”.29 They had to
therefore rely on active, powerful men and Bouton prescribed the remedy: “easy to overcome his illness while walking and working, and not to be broken down”30 adding that
“those who stand idle, who only sleep during the day or give in to sadness, do not live long
on this island: the leg ulcers that are difficult to cure, stomach pains and other ailments
welcome them and soon spread. Here we must escape the melancholy, and walk briskly to
work, keep clear, and wash often, for this purpose the servants in the afternoon on Saturday
are free to bathe and wash their clothes and other clothes: if they do not wash or keep clean
and work, they immediately become sickly, that is to say cowardly, sick, and useless”.31 Our
Jesuit also noted the presence of an evil, which was known to be endemic in Amerindian
populations, the yaws, which according to Bouton (VII, 90) struck particularly black people and very rarely the French. The description continues with the description of “chiques,
which form in the dust [and which] are too small to be seen”32 which get stuck mainly in
the feet and have to be removed under penalty of ulceration, either with a pin, or putting
them in seawater, or by using green pétun (VII, 92).
The author of the Relation, talking about what is feared the most and which is a real
drag for settlers33, however, only devotes a few lines to the “great snakes, or rather vipers,
because they have all the properties of our own which have a deadly bite, if nothing is done
quickly”.34 He notes that there are not as many as they say and specifies that these snakes
do not attack people who do not touch them, and most of them retreat to the most remote
places in the woods.35
29 “C’est merveille si quelqu’un échappe, de ceux qui arrivent de nouveau aux îles, qu’il n’ait quatre ou cinq accès
de fièvre, encore même, qu’il se soit fait purger et saigner à l’arrivée�����������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VII 89).
30 “��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Facile qui est de corrompre son mal en marchant et travaillant, et ne se laisser abattre����������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VII 89)
31 “L��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
es personnes qui se tiennent oisives, qui ne font que dormir le jour, ou qui s’abandonnent à la tristesse, ne
sont pas pour vivre longuement en cette île: les ulcères aux jambes qui sont assez difficiles à guérir, les maux
d’estomac, et autres incommodités les accueillent, et dépêche[n]t bientôt. Il faut ici fuir la mélancolie, marcher
et travailler gaillardement, se tenir nettement, et se laver souvent; pour cet effet les serviteurs ont l’après-midi
du samedi libre, pour se baigner, et laver leurs linges et autres hardes. S’ils ne se lavent, et tiennent proprement,
et travaillent, ils deviennent incontinent malingres, c’est à dire lâches, malades, et inutiles�������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VII
89).
32 “�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Chiques, qui se forment dans la poussière [et qui] sont si petites qu’on ne les aperçoit���������������
” (Bouton 1640
VII:91).
33 “C�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
e qui a le plus décrié l’île, et empêché deux mille personnes d’y venir��������������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VII 92-93).
34 “G����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
randes couleuvres, ou plutôt vipères, car elles ont toutes les propriétés des nôtres, qui ont une morsure
mortelle, si on n’y remédie promptement” (Bouton 1640:VII 93).
35 “����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
N’attaquent pas les hommes qui ne les touchent point, et se retirent la plupart aux lieux plus écartés dans les
bois�����������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VII 93).

334

communities in contact

The third set back for Martinique were the attacks of the Savages, who could threaten
and attack the French at any time by running multiple surprise attacks. Bouton, like his
fellows, was unfamiliar with the origins of the war with the Carib, which was so different
from those waged by the French. For the Jesuit, the Carib were “faithless” and “traitors”
(VII, 94-95), and they knew perfectly well how to use the island to hide and surprise those
who are not on their guard.
To complete the brief sketch of the “inconveniences” of Martinique, Bouton remarks
that attention must be given to the presence of hostile fleets (English, Dutch or Spanish),
which in his time used to pass near the island, or even “to make a stopover for watering”.
He concludes that this was not a great danger because “neither Savages nor foreigners will
have any advantage over the French, while the latter are on their guard just as they are”.36

The need to establish a mission
As we have seen, there were many more advantages than disadvantages to colonizing the
island and, more importantly, establishing a mission there. Bouton justified the right of the
French to truly settle in Martinique, emphasizing that they were the first. With the arrival
of Bouton (III, 35), a thousand Frenchmen were already settled there. Bouton noticed,
however, that they were poor (II, 32), and lived like the Carib in “huts” and “hammocks”
(II, 32, III, 42). One can feel a clear condemnation of the lifestyle of the settlers here. He
considers that the French are “almost abandoned by any spiritual help without Mass, without priest, without preaching, without sacrament” and thus they were living “in too much
freedom and impunity”37. There were three priests on the island but there were not enough
of them to cover all the areas occupied by the settlers (VIII, 96-97). Our Jesuit was quick
to point out that “God knows if these good Clerics have had a lot of authority and if their
efforts there came to fruit”; while he noticed that there were also some “heretics, as well as
libertines and Atheists, stupid and brutal minds”, but this should not place an unfavourable light on the French, who, he says, “are not so vicious and so bad as they were made out
to be in France”.38 The only church built was not enough, and it was up to the author of
the Relation to build three more churches for the spiritual welfare of the inhabitants (VIII,
98). This was probably the work of the Jesuits, an essential task because Bouton explains
that “our compatriots who, without the necessary culture would become barbarians and
wild in these woods”.39
If the settlers had to be protected, it was just as necessary to evangelize the black people in Cape Verde and other African slaves (XI, 133-134), called “Moors”, who “for the
most part [had] rude and stupid minds, not knowing how to read nor write, and it [was]
believed that it [was] almost impossible to teach them. Nevertheless they laugh and mock,

36 “N���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
i les Sauvages, ni les étrangers n’auront aucun avantage sur les Français, tandis qu’ils seront sur leur garde
comme ils sont�����������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VII 95).
37 “P������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
resque abandonnés de tout secours spirituel, sans messe, sans prêtre, sans prédicateur, sans sacrement’ et qu’ils
vivent de ce fait ‘dans une trop grande licence, liberté, et impunité������������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VIII 96).
38 “����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Dieu sait si ces bons ecclésiastiques ont eu beaucoup d’autorité, et fait bien du fruit là où ils
������������������
étaient [...]
hérétiques, et quelques libertins et athées, esprits stupides et brutaux [...] ne sont pas si vicieux, et si mauvais
qu’on les fait en France������������������������
” (Bouton 1640:VIII 97).
39 “N������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
os compatriotes, qui sans la culture nécessaire deviendraient barbares, et sauvages dans ces bois et retraites de
la barbarie et sauvagines����������������������������
” (Bouton 1640: XI 131-132).

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335

and notice quite well that the things we do seem to be insolent”.40 The author tells us that
while some are baptized, they remain “in an insufferable ignorance of the mysteries of our
faith: that is why there are few who have been admitted to Holy Communion”41, especially
since they do not generally understand French. Moreover, given their stupidity one has to
proceed with caution and take time regarding Christianization even if some want to be
baptized.42
While the evangelization of black people was not an easy thing, what is happening
among the Carib was much more difficult. Bouton admits that because of “their habits and
ways of doing things”, it would be very difficult to convert them (XI, 135). The Carib did
not need the French who “say it is we who need them, as we came to their land, they were
doing well without us and could very well continue to do so”.43 Bouton notices that some
were however doing the sign of the cross and saying the names of Jesus and Mary (XI, 139)
but he addes that this was to imitate the French. He wished, however, that they would be
converted (XI, 140-141). The only solution recommended by our Jesuit was to “take some
of their children away to teach them, and to use them all as hostages”44, as did the Jesuits
in New France.

Bouton and the Carib
In 1640, natives and settlers were living apart; the island was indeed split into two, one
side inhabited by the French, the other by the natives (II, 30, III, 37). Bouton admits he
knows little of these people because they live in their separated territories, areas characterized “by inaccessible hills”, the French only saw them “rarely, and only when they come
by sea to trade”.45 Bouton hoped that after a longer contact, the settlers would learn more
about them. He could not assess them because they often went from island to island, highlighting the semi-nomadic character of this society (IX, 105). Like his predecessors, he was
surprised to see their nakedness and the pulling out of their beards (IX, 108-109). He said
they reddened their bodies with annatto, the women wearing a kind “of boots from the
knee to the ankle”, and the men and women having “necklaces made of beads, or crystal,
or small, well-organized bones” and they put in their hair “feathers of macaws, flamingos
and other birds […] and attach a few nice things to it as was their fashion”. Besides some
Carib, including leaders, wore hats on their heads.46

40 “L’esprit si grossier et hébété pour la plupart, qu’aucun ne sait ni lire ni écrire, et croit-on qu’il est presque
impossible de leur apprendre. Ils sont néanmoins rieurs et moqueurs, et remarquent assez bien ce qu’on fait qui
leur semble impertinent” (Bouton 1640:VIII 99-100).
41 “Dans une insupportable ignorance des mystères de notre foi: c’est pourquoi il y en a peu qui aienété admis à la
sainte communion” (Bouton 1640:VIII 100).
42 “Procéder un peu lentement [...] bien prendre garde de rien précipiter” (Bouton 1640:XI 134-135).
43 “Disent que c’est nous qui avons besoin d’eux, puisque nous venons en leurs terres, qu’ils se sont bien passés de
nous, et s’en passeront bien encore” (Bouton 1640:XI 135-136).
44 “Tirer d’eux quelques-uns de leurs enfants pour les instruire, et ensemble s’en servir pour otages”(Bouton 1640:
XI 136-137).
45 “Par des mornes inaccessibles”, que les Français les voient “rarement, et seulement lorsqu’ils viennent par mer
pour traiter”(Bouton 1640:IX 106).
46 “De brodequins, depuis le genou jusqu’à la cheville du pied [qu’hommes et femmes ont] des colliers de rassade,
ou de cristal, ou de petits os bien agencés [et qu’ils mettent dans leurs chevelures] des plumes d’aras, de flamants,
et autres oiseaux [...] et y attachent quelques gentillesses à leur mode” (Bouton 1640 IX:109).

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A nation without religion...
Like many Jesuits, Bouton believed the Carib to be a people without religion (IX, 105).
The fact remains that in speaking about indigenous beliefs, he was able to note that they
have some knowledge about the immortality of the soul (IX, 106) because they have burial
customs akin those of the Canadians, “they give to the souls of dead […] clothes, food
for several days, and furniture but I believe they do not concern themselves to know what
becomes of these souls”.47 But Bouton evokes the spirits, he mentions the “devil they call
Maboya, [which] sometimes beat them to death” but they “do not worship him, that I
know and do not offer him any sacrifices”. Our Jesuit also speaks of a different spirit “they
call Chemin, which does not treat them any better than Maboya” and of people who “privately converse with him, since they predict future events which they could only know
from him”. These are probably Boyés and one told Bouton in order to show their ability as
“the day before we arrived, an old Indian woman told a Frenchman, magnane ship from
France, which means tomorrow, a ship from France will come, which was true”.48
Bouton tells a Carib story indicating the existence in Dominica of “a snake, which is
sometimes large, sometimes small, which has a carbuncle or a strong, shiny stone in its
forehead which it removes when it wants to drink and then puts it back, and nobody can
nor dares to go into its cave without fasting at least three days in advance, and abstaining
from his wife, otherwise he would not see it, or would risk being defeated by it, that is to
say being killed”.49 It is probably this belief, also reported by Breton (1978:214) himself
who speaks of “a big snake they call oloubera which lives in a frightening cave”.50 These are
the only elements that our Jesuit gives us. Not until the Sieur De La Borde we get more
precise information (De la Borde 1674).
Bouton is more interested in the daily life of the Carib, their knowledge and their customs. He says that they can only count up to ten, but that sometimes they can go up to
“twenty, or two times ten, showing their fingers and toes, and beyond that if they want
to say more and express a larger number, they use sand”.51 They can sometimes predict
the weather and have a good knowledge of the stars (X, 122-123). The Carib language is
for Bouton very “special” and “very difficult to learn” (XI, 130). He also tells us that they
use, in order to communicate with the Europeans, “some gibberish mixed with French,
Spanish, English and Flemish”, which they’ve learned by trading with them. For Bouton
this is a clear advantage because, he says, “in a short space of time, you can hear them and
47 “Ils donnent aux âmes des défunts, comme les Canadiens, des hardes, des vivres pendant quelques jours, et des
meubles pour les servir mais de savoir ce que ces âmes deviennent, je crois qu’ils ne s’en mettent pas en peine”
(Bouton 1640:IX 106).
48 “Diable qu’ils appellent Maboïa, [qui] les bat quelques fois jusqu’à la mort [...] rendent aucun honneur, que je
sache, et ne lui font aucun sacrifice [...] qu’ils nomment Chemin, qui ne les traite pas mieux que Maboïa [...]
une communication particulière avec lui, puisqu’ils prédisent les choses futures, qu’ils ne peuvent savoir que de
lui [...] le jour d’avant que nous arrivassions, une vieille sauvagesse dit à un Français, magnane navire de France,
c’est à dire, demain arrivera ici un navire de la France, ce qui fut vrai” (Bouton 1640:IX 106-108).
49 “Un serpent, qui se fait tantôt grand, tantôt petit, qui a au milieu du front une escarboucle, ou pierre fort
luisante, laquelle il tire lorsqu’il veut boire, et puis la remet, que personne ne le peut, ou ose aller voir en sa
caverne, s’il n’a au préalable jeûné trois jours, et s’est abstenu de sa femme, autrement il ne le verrait pas, ou
serait en danger d’être maté par lui, c’est à dire tué” (Bouton 1640:IX 108).
50 “D’une grosse couleuvre qu’ils appellent ‘oloubera’ qui est dans une caverne effroyable” (Bouton 1640:II 7
70).
51 “Vingt, ou deux fois dix, montrant les doigts des mains et des pieds; après cela, s’ils veulent en dire davantage,
et exprimer [un] plus grand nombre, ils prennent du sable” (Bouton 1640:X 128).

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337

be heard by them [that] will be a great benefit to us to teach them”.52 And our author does
not hesitate to use this gibberish in his book.53

The Carib ceremonies
Bouton notes that the Carib “often make wines for different occasions in their carbets
which means they get together in large huts built for this purpose, where they drink excessively... it sometimes lasts eight or ten days”54 and he adds that this is the time to attack
them because then they are almost always drunk. If our author did not understand the true
meaning, he notes, however, that these “wines” are an opportunity to talk about important
subjects, including the war (X, 120), and goes on to identify the different stages of these
meetings. Our Jesuit also tells us about important Carib ceremonies that he describes, especially the first one, as “ridiculous”; it is about the birth of their children (IX, 112-113).
What amazes him is that after giving birth, the women go back more or less to a normal
life while the husbands go to bed simulating pregnancy. The latter have to fast, are heavily
scarified and have to abstain from certain foods (IX, 113-115). The Carib have almost the
same ceremony to choose a chief (called capitaine): “we make him fast, he is torn to pieces
and then we throw dry fish skin at his head, so if he does not skillfully protect himself, he
is in danger of being hurt and cannot be considered a good chief ”.55 Bouton also stresses
that these chiefs have relatively little power in society.

“Cruel, fickle, deceitful, faithless, lawless men...”
Bouton paints a pejorative portrait of the natives. They are “suspicious, cruel, fickle, deceitful, and without faith, without law, without fear of divine justice”56, they act by surprise
and we must be constantly wary of them (IX, 117-118). They do what they want and do
not have any justice (IX, 110-111). Not always understanding what they do, including
making ouicou, Bouton depicts them as “extremely dirty in the way they eat”57.
But what is most striking for our Jesuit is the way they live: “The men are wonderfully
lazy and spend time in their beds or drinking or chatting on top of them, being combed
by their women, not an hour goes by without being combed and they do not even bother
going fishing, hunting, they’d rather spend time on themselves preferring fishing crabs and
leaving the hut only to catch lizards, turtles or something else”.58 If Bouton did not un52 “Un certain baragouin mêlé de français, d’espagnol, anglais, et flamand [...] en peu de temps on peut et les
entendre, et se faire entendre à eux, [ce] qui nous sera un grand avantage pour les instruire” (Bouton 1640: XI
130).
53 “Magnane navire de France” (tomorrow ship from France), “maté par lui ” (killed by him), “mouche bourache”
(very drunck), “mouche manigat” (very agile) (Bouton 1640:111, 117).
54 “Font souvent pour diverses occasions des vins dans leurs carbets, c’est à dire des assemblées dans de grandes
cases faites exprès, où ils boivent excessivement [...] cela dure quelques fois jusqu’à huit ou dix jours” (Bouton
1649:X 120).
55 “On le fait jeûner, on le déchiquette, puis on lui jette à la tête des peaux de poisson sèches, de sorte que s’il
ne se pare dextrement, il est en danger d’être blessé, et n’être tenu pour un bon capitaine” (Bouton 1640:IX
114-115).
56 “Défiants, cruels, inconstants, trompeurs, sans foi, sans loi, sans appréhension de la justice divine” (Bouton
1640:XI 136).
57 “Extrêmement sales en leur manger” (Bouton 1640:IX 118).
58 “Les hommes sont merveilleusement fainéants, et passent le temps dedans leurs lits, ou dessus à boire, causer, et
se faire peigner par leurs femmes, il ne se passe point une heure qu’ils ne se fassent peigner, et ne prennent pas
même la peine de pêcher, ou chasser, aimant mieux se passer à eux, et ne manger que de la cassave, et des crabes,
que de sortir de la case pour prendre du lézard, de la tortue, ou autre chose” (Bouton 1640:IX 111-112).

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derstand their life, he nonetheless noticed that the way “they lead their lives was so pleasant that they are so happy and content, that no matter how well you treat them, there is
nothing that you could do to make them stay with you”.59 He adds that even those who
lived some time with the French have left at the first opportunity to go back to their own
people (IX, 116).
The author of the Relation was struck by the conditions the Carib women find themselves in. Unable to understand this society, he makes clear in his account, how the tasks
between men and women are distributed. The first deal with war, fishing and hunting; the
second with gardens and domestic affairs. The women seem to him then “unfortunate and
treated like slaves”60 besides the fact that the men can have several wives and treat them very
badly and sometimes, he says, kill them because they are very jealous (IX, 110).

The Carib War
Their weapons are essentially “red wooden bows, with arrows made of reeds, which instead
of iron have a strong sharp and poisonous wooden tip”; they do not shoot straight ahead
but high up and their dexterity enables them to hit their targets very often, they also have
“red wooden spears” and for close combat, they have boutous, “which are large redwoods,
flat, an inch thick, and half a foot wide at the end, two or three feet long, with which
they trample the head of their enemies”.61 They used dugout canoes to travel from island
to island that could carry forty to fifty men and Bouton tells us that some put up sails, to
imitate the Europeans (IX, 127).
According to Bouton, the Carib carried out all their wars by surprise at dawn in making as much noise as possible with their cries. They are painted black around their eyes
with juniper. They seemd to have realized the effects of firearms and constantly moved to
avoid being an easy target and when they saw the fuse being lit, they cast themselves on the
ground to avoid the bullets (X, 124-125). Bouton also reports that some Carib have firearms and know how to use them (X, 126). In their attacks, they have a strong defence, they
ceased fighting and collected their dead. Bouton also notes their great courage (X, 126).
In 1640, the Carib engaged in fighting against the French in Guadeloupe, against the
English in St. Lucia, Antigua and Montserrat, and against all those who sought to occupy
their islands. But they also waged war against the Galibis, the Amerindians who were on
��
the continent and made alliances with the Arawaks to fight against them (X, 122) 62
.

59 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
“������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������
Qu’ils mènent leur est si agréable, qu’ils en sont très contents et quelque bon traitement que vous leur fassiez,
vous ne les retiendrez point pour demeurer avec vous�����������������������
” (Bouton 1640:IX 115).
60 “Malheureuses, et traitées comme des esclaves”(Bouton 1640:IX 110).
61 “Arcs de bois rouge, avec des flèches de roseaux, qui au lieu de fer ont au bout un bois fort pointu, et empoisonné [...] sagaies de bois rouge [...] qui sont gros bois rouges, plats, épais d’un bon pouce, larges par le bout
de près de demi pied, longs de deux ou trois pieds, dont ils écrasent la tête de leurs ennemis” (Bouton 1640:IX
123-124).
62 Bouton undoubtedly makes a mistake here.

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339

Some characters
Bouton refers only to three individuals, three Carib leaders. The first of them is Kaïerman
who Du Parquet had imprisoned to give two natives back to him that his men had captured
from the French. He managed to escape but was bitten by a snake and died shortly after (I,
26). This account is confirmed by Du Tertre who cites a letter dated November 8, 1639,
repeating the same story (Du Tertre 1978:131).
The other two Carib capitaines are Le Pilote63 and his brother Arlet. Le Pilote is portrayed as a great friend of Du Parquet from whom he took the name (III, 40). He seemed to
seek peace with the French, so much so that some settlers felt that without him the French
could not settle permanently on the island. He seemed to be rejected by his own people and
Bouton claimes that he wished to live alongside the French.64 The third captain is Arlet,
one of Le Pilote’s brothers, “who had small pieces of brass hanging from the lips, chin, and
nose”65, and wished to be baptized if his women had allowed him (XI, 140).

Conclusion
Is the Relation of Jacques Bouton a model of reference for subsequent writers? Bouton, for
the first time in our current state of knowledge, draws up a brief outline of the Carib and
their customs in the last two chapters of his book. This description, the source of which the
author’s inspiration is unknown, will serve as a model for many other “reporters”, including Sieur De La Borde (1674), Mauril de Saint-Michel (1652), Jean Hallay (1657), and
very probably Charles de Rochefort, Mathias Du Puis (1652) and Pierre Pelleprat. This
description, and especially the “stereotypes” used by Bouton, will be reused throughout the
seventeenth century and even much later, and would go on to forge a misrepresented and
crooked image of the Carib people, which still lingers on today.
Bouton’s Relation is an essential text for understanding the settlement of the French in
Martinique and it gives us, in addition, an accurate picture of Carib Martinique in 1640.

References
Anonymous of Carpentras